Within 10 minutes it’s obvious to anyone who meets me that I’m incredibly passionate about the field of school health. I started my career as a middle school teacher in schools that had students living in poverty. As the pressure to raise test scores, increase attendance and time-on-task grew, I began to ask questions. I was expected to raise test scores when Charles’ home didn’t have heat on the night prior? Or Lexi just found out that she’s pregnant? Or Tom didn’t know who’s couch he was going to sleep on that night? When our students are coming to school with basic survival needs not being met, how as educators are we supposed to push time-on-task?
What can we do with our education system and school communities to create healthy safe places for our students and staff? Schools should at least be consistent in their approach to health and safety. It doesn’t work when we keep telling students in health class that physical activity is important, yet they only have it once a week. Or, how important it is to talk about your feelings yet there are hardly any more social workers, school counselors and school psychologists in schools with an acceptable case load. We are changing our food systems in schools, slowly. But, there are still cookie-dough fundraisers and non nutrient-rich food options at staff meetings. Hallways are still unsafe places for students due to bullying. C’mon people! Let’s send consistent messages to all students and staff. Let’s send this message, “While on school campus, we value your safety and health. Our programs, policies and practices will all be consistent.” Is it that difficult?
I love meeting principals who are taking the lead and doing this work. Leaders from all over the country. But, they aren’t always supported. It needs to change at the top. Our US Department of Education needs to support what CDC; Division of Adolescent and School Health did for years; fund and support school health work in states. I mean, even ASCD created and supports the Whole Child approach. Arne Duncan, I challenge you to begin changing the system. Begin encouraging schools to build community relationships, set healthy policies, consider health and physical education core, save teachers from leaving the profession by providing support to them.
Luckily, I’m an idealist. I truly believe this change can happen in my lifetime. And I may get down sometimes about the work… but being an idealist, I always recover. Attending annual conferences and meetings always helps to re-energize and invigorate me. Today, I arrived in Myrtle Beach for the American School Health Association Conference, my favorite annual conference. I like it because of the size, smaller compared to other mega-conferences and the participants are amazing colleagues from all over the country, many whom I know well and adore. Other than the weather being yucky today, I’m excited to be here and present 3 presentations as well as attend workshops for professional development myself. And, most importantly network and build more meaningful relationships within the field. So less kids feel unsafe at school. And less kids are hungry. And less schools cut health and PE.