“Beginning in early childhood and throughout life, each of us makes decisions affecting our health. They are.made, for the most part, without regard for, or contact with, the health care system. Yet, their cumulative impact has a greater effect on the length and quality of life than all the effects of medical care combined.” (Achieving the 1990 Health Objectives for the Nation: Agenda for the Nation’s Schools)
Elementary schools are where children are first exposed in a formal way to those basic truths and values which we as a society accept as necessary to the continuation of a healthy and orderly society. In an increasingly complex world, when so much is known about factors that put one at risk for early disease and death, why shouldn’t the above quote continue to be an important guideline to teachers, parents and other important adults in children’s lives? Isn’t it the role of educators to help children become critical thinkers and informed decision-makers in matters directly affecting their personal health and well-being throughout life?
In school life, this can be accomplished through school health education, through what is served in the school lunch program, through the physical education program, through modeling of healthy behaviors by school health personnel, through supportive informed families and community, and through providing a healthy school environment. My personal mission for the school health program was three fold: 1. To provide primary health care through the first aid and in school support for children with certain health conditions, 2. To provide secondary health care by in school health screenings and by referring families to outside help as needed for a variety of needs, and 3. To provide preventative health care through school health education in a variety of ways.
During these years, I think we made interesting and important strides in all of these areas.
- In 1993, we began a collaboration with the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth, Dartmouth Medical School, and several public and preschools in the Upper Valley area. It was Dr. Koop’s desire to draw medical students into school-based programs to help teach children the value of healthy lifestyle choices. In part, this was to build connectedness of the medical profession to the school and the community. A secondary benefit for medical students would be to help them communicate effectively with the youngest members of the community in the area of health promotion and disease prevention. Teachers served as mentors and training was provided through Plymouth State College. Jackie Sowers, nationally known health education consultant, took a lead role in defining the partnerships and presenting many of the training sessions and in helping our Hanover community address local issues. This program, Partners in Health Education, won a Community/School Partnership award from the New Hampshire Partnership in Education.
- Additionally, there were strong efforts by many in the school to adopt a health curriculum that could be integrated into other subject matter and which emphasized health promotion and disease prevention and which would cover grades K-12 in a developmentally appropriate way, building each year on the knowledge, skills and abilities previously learned.
- Changes in the school lunch program began through a committee of school members and community. The goal was and continues to be to provide healthy choices for students and adults and to minimize highly processed foods and those with little nutritional value.
- A highly valued partnership with the PE teachers at the Ray School helped to bring about many of these changes. Debby Franzoni and Janice O’Donnell were supportive of this model of school health from the beginning and their classes and activities reflected the importance of daily exercise as a goal of lifetime fitness and health.
- A school wellness program for employees provided a number of opportunities for after school exercise, a lunchtime walking program, flu shots, and other activities for out of
- school socializing and fun. Many of these opportunities were also open to the greater school community, K-12, as well as parents.
- A number of opportunities for families and communities to participate in healthy activities were available. The PTO had representatives serving on the Wellness Committee and the School Lunch Committee. The PE teachers promoted Bike and Walk to School days, and Jackie Sowers presented some programs for parents to help them with modem day dilemmas of families.
- Finally, the school playground was revamped using safer materials and providing many creative opportunities for fun. Even since that time, wonderful new changes and additions have been made. Bike and ski helmets became available periodically at low cost through the Health Office. Children were encouraged from many different directions, PE teachers, nurse, and families, to adopt safe and healthy behaviors.
All of this could only be possible in a community which values all of these components of a healthy school. Those were great years!! And, the school continues to thrive, and to hire wonderful, committed teachers, aides, and others.
Ann Bradley, RN, BSN, M.Ed
May 19, 2008