When was the last time you ate a school lunch? Do you know if your elementary school student has recess daily? Or have you wondered how to introduce the idea of a school garden?
If you find yourself asking these kinds of questions as your child heads back to school this fall, you’re not alone. You’re among millions of parents trying hard to make sure their kids are eating healthy meals at home, snacking smartly and playing actively outside more often than playing video games inside. All to instill healthy lifestyle habits.
But you may not have considered if those healthy habits are also supported at school, the place where your kids spend the most amount of time outside your home. Many schools are doing their best to align healthy messages with healthy practices, but often don’t realize when these activities conflict.
For example, in the classroom and PE, students learn about MyPlate and the benefits of physical activity, but a pizza party is held for the winners of the President’s Fitness Challenge. The school newsletter promotes screen-free week, but the school disciplines students by taking away recess, when kids blow off steam and enjoy screen-free play.
Family events sound fun but encourage unhealthy snacks, like Muffins with Mom and Doughnuts with Dad. Pizza, pancakes, muffins and doughnuts have their place, but offering unhealthy treats in school sends our children conflicting messages, making it more challenging for them to learn to make healthy choices.
Evidence shows schools that promote physical activity and healthy eating develop students who not only learn healthy habits for life but also perform better in school. School health and wellness programming helps to improve student attendance, behavior and academics.
As schools increasingly face pressure to improve academic performance, and childhood obesity remains a critical issue for the country, the recognition of school health and wellness as a key to student success is growing.
However, we all know too well that schools face constraints on budget, time, people power and resources to create healthier school environments.
It takes the whole school community to create a healthy school. Parents are a powerful force for change in schools and can bring together staff, other parents and community partners to spark a culture of health, from building school gardens and helping monitor active recess to crafting a healthy school celebration policy and applying for grants to support and expand healthy school meals. And this benefits your child in many ways.
Studies show that students with involved parents are more likely to earn higher grades and test scores, have better attendance, better social skills, graduate and go on to college. Students who feel supported by their parents are less likely to disengage from learning and experience emotional distress. They’re also less likely to practice unhealthy eating behaviors.
When parents volunteer at school, the likelihood of students initiating smoking decreases and the likelihood of them meeting guidelines for physical activity increases. Teachers and principals have higher morale and higher job satisfaction, further contributing to positive learning environments for students.
The benefits for parents abound, too, as parents who volunteer are more confident in their parenting and decision-making skills, use more affection and positive reinforcement and less punishment on their children.
Given all the evidence supporting healthier schools, it may not be surprising that nearly all parents believe there is a connection between healthy schools and their child’s academic success, according to a survey conducted by Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK) and National PTA.
However, despite the connection between health and academics, nearly all parents are concerned about the future of school and student health.
Did You KnowFrom AFHK/National PTA Survey
- Less than 1/3 of parents think they can have a strong impact on program changes at school, while a similar number want to have an impact but don’t know how to get involved.
- More than 1/2 of parents do not know if their school has a health policy or are aware that one exists but are not familiar with it.
- Less than 1/3 of parents cite healthy snacks, healthy fundraising programs and healthy rewards and celebrations as the top healthy activities happening at their schools.
Help for Families
To help empower parents to make a difference in their children’s health at school and reinforce healthy habits at home, AFHK and National PTA have teamed up to create a nationwide initiative, Parents for Healthy Kids. This new initiative features a website, school grants for parent-led projects and local trainings to help parents become effective advocates in their children’s schools. The website, ParentsforHealthyKids.org, was created for parents by parents to help them learn how to engage school leaders and other parents on issues that they not only care about, but can also positively impact.
Regardless of your knowledge of or experience in school health, or whether you are in an urban, suburban or rural school district, you’ll find tips, resources and inspiration on a variety of topics; guidance on how to navigate the landscape of school health and wellness; and ideas and recipes for keeping kids healthy outside of school. A community forum provides the opportunity to exchange ideas and even find other like-minded parents locally.
Parents for Healthy Kids school grants are available to help fund wellness programs led by parents or parent groups, made possible with the support of grocery store chain ALDI, lead sponsor of Parents for Healthy Kids.
For the 2017-2018 school year, 147 schools were awarded grants that provide funds and technical support to expand student access to in-school physical activity and healthy foods, improve the overall school health environment, and support PTAs and other parent groups in engaging parents and families in these efforts.
You know how important healthy habits are to your child’s long-term emotional, physical and academic growth. Isn’t it time you made sure that what they are learning at school matches what you are teaching them at home? Here’s to a healthy and safe school year to you and your family!
Rob Bisceglie is the CEO of Action for Healthy Kids, a father of three and president of his local school board.
Parents in Action! A Guide to Engaging Parents in Local School Wellness Policy, California Project LEAN, 2008.
Parent Engagement: Strategies for Involving Parents in School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012.
Home-School Relations: Working Successfully with Parents and Families (3rd Edition), Olsen, Glenn W. and Fuller, Mary Lou, 2008.