Growing Healthy

Coordinated School Health Education

Definition of Coordinated School Health Programs

Coordinated school health programs (CSHPs) are integrated, planned, school-based programs that are designed to promote physical, emotional, and educational development of students. They include health education and promotion, disease prevention, and access to health-related services.

The Importance of CSHPs

Six risk behaviors have been identified as the main causes of premature adult death and illness; unfortunately, these risk behaviors are largely established during youth:

  • Tobacco use
  • Dietary patterns that contribute to disease
  • Insufficient physical activity
  • Sexual behaviors that result in HIV infection, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Behaviors that result in unintentional and intentional injuries

These behaviors are interrelated, contributing simultaneously to poor health and negative educational and social outcomes. The good news is that these behaviors are preventable.

These risk behaviors have a long-term negative effect on adult health, and they also have a direct negative effect on the educational performance of today's students. It is clear that CSHPs can help improve and maintain the health of kids to allow them to fulfill their learning potential.

School: A Captive Audience

Every school day, 52 million young people attend more than 110,000 schools across the nation. Given the size and accessibility of this population, our schools can make an enormous, positive impact on the health of the nation. A coordinated approach to school health improves kids' health and their capacity to learn through the support of families, schools, and communities working together. At its very core, Coordinated School Health (CSH) is about keeping students healthy over a long period of time, reinforcing positive, healthy behaviors throughout the school day, and making it clear that good health and learning go hand-in-hand. CSH offers students the information and skills they will need to make good choices in life.

Coordinated School Health Programming: The 8-Component Model

A Coordinated School Health approach is designed to help young people grow into healthy and productive adults by focusing on the physical, emotional, social, and educational development of children in kindergarten through 12th grade. A coordinated approach to school health can address up to eight different aspects of health and education (Figure A).

Description of Components

Comprehensive School Health Education

School staff-teachers, nurses, administrators, or counselors-can work together to develop an ongoing approach to help students build health-related knowledge and skills from kindergarten through 12th grade. Comprehensive school health education addresses the physical, social, and emotional dimensions of health, and refers to the teaching of a range of developmentally and sequentially appropriate health topics at each grade level.

School Environment

To learn effectively, children must be in a school environment where they feel comfortable and supported. The school offers a positive physical, emotional, and social climate that provides a safe physical environment, and a safe, supportive environment that fosters learning. Parents and other adults working with children have high expectations about learning and provide students with the support they need.

School Health Services

Growing children require a regularly scheduled health "maintenance" program, including immunizations, dental checkups, physicals, eye exams, other types of screenings and, in certain instances, daily medication. With the help of health professionals, schools can encourage preventive services to enable students to take proactive measures to stay healthy and get more out of school.

School Meals and Nutrition

Many students eat one or two meals a day at school. Thus, schools have a unique opportunity to offer more nutritious food, as well as reinforce classroom instruction on nutrition and diet, thereby encouraging students to make healthful eating and good nutrition a priority for life.

Counseling, Psychological, and Mental Health Services

Today, many students have the added stress of coping with emotional challenges stemming from problems such as parental divorce, alcoholism, abuse, and drug addiction. By offering counseling and instruction to students, as well as referrals to mental health professionals, schools can help parents take a big step toward making an even greater difference in a student's overall performance.

Physical Education

Schools can and should encourage students to lead a physically active lifestyle both in and out of school. One way to start is to emphasize the importance of regular exercise as a lifelong activity.

Health Promotion for Staff

Students aren't the only ones who need to stay in good health. Educators and school staff are important role models for students. When schools help staff maintain and improve their health, they can expect decreases in employee absenteeism and increased morale.

Family/Community Involvement

One of the major benefits of CSH is that it can foster a closer working relationship between parents and schools. Working with parents, businesses, local health officials, and other community groups, schools can form powerful coalitions to address the health needs of students.

The Effects of CSHPs on Education

CSHPs can help improve and maintain the health of kids to allow them to fulfill their learning potential (Health is Academic, 1998). Administrators, teachers, and parents have noted several benefits of coordinated school health programs, including:

  • Students are absent less and have fewer behavioral problems
  • Students learn not only facts but also real skills that they can use
  • Students are more ready to learn when their basic needs are met through services such as school meal programs.

A coordinated approach to school health may look very different in each school, district, community, town, city or state in which it has been implemented. And while developing the elements of CSH may seem difficult at first, the reality is that many schools and communities across the country are utilizing some of the eight components already. Those involved in implementing a coordinated school health program participate as a team. They communicate regularly to ensure that resources are used efficiently and that issues are addressed in a timely fashion. When parents, teachers, students, and dedicated members of the community work together and make a commitment to put these different elements in place, the results can be powerful. For best results, a coordinator promotes communication and cooperation among the components.

A coordinated approach to school health will make a significant contribution not only to individual students, but also to entire communities.