Making the Case for School Wellness - Action for Healthy Kids
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Making the Case for School Wellness

Getting others to join your bandwagon

parent at cooking clubYou might already have a vision for your child’s healthy school, but as you take steps to improve school wellness, others are bound to have legit questions or concerns. Don’t get dismayed or derailed. Use their doubts and furrowed brows as an opportunity to bring them on board the wellness train! Check back here for the latest news and research to help make your case. In the meantime, here are some common issues and concerns you might encounter and how to handle them.

1. “We’re too busy.”

School leaders may agree that school wellness is important but say they don’t have the time or resources to commit to it. Reassure school leaders you’re not asking for a large time commitment from them or teachers, rather you’re there to lead the charge. The biggest thing you’ll need is their public support. As the programs take off, staff are bound to get excited about participating. Offer suggestions on how staff can be involved if they do have the time or the interest. And if school employees are overburdened, recommend some activities that can help relieve their stress: physical activity challenges, nutrition education for staff, walking programs and healthy meetings.

2. “Shouldn’t we be focusing on academics?”

With increasing academic pressures and competing priorities, teachers and administrators may be worried that wellness efforts will take time away from academics. There are plenty of ways that movement and healthy eating can be integrated into classroom lessons and activities. (e.g., active learning, healthy classroom parties). Remind them that study after study has shown that healthy kids focus better and learn better, so establishing healthy practices does mean focusing on academics! It’s what we call the Learning Connection.

3. “It’s not the school’s job to teach healthy habits, and we don’t want to step on parents’ toes.”

It is your school’s job to maximize student performance, and studies show that healthy habits lead to increased academic success. If your school does not have a healthy climate and culture, many parents will feel their values are not being supported at school and that their children are not being given an academic edge they deserve. Explain that no one expects schools to solve the child health crisis alone. There are many forces at work to help kids be fit and healthy―physicians, parents, the community―but schools play a vital role in completing that puzzle. Here’s why:

  • Schools reach most children and adolescents in a community.
  • Schools provide opportunities to practice healthy behaviors―kids spend around 1,200 hours per year in school.
  • Teachers, administrators, school staff and parent volunteers are key role models.
  • Curriculum standards for health usually include nutrition and physical education. Shouldn’t our school practices and climate reflect those standards rather than conflict with them?

4. “But cupcakes aren’t bad, and kids like what we’re serving them.”

Everything in moderation. But when school food options are healthy, parents can be more comfortable offering occasional treats in the home setting because they will have control over the timing and the quantity, and can keep “moderation” as a guiding principle. Kids also like lots of things we don’t offer them because of the negative consequences—they like to ride bikes without helmets and stay home from school. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that kids are not in charge for a reason— because adults are! It takes time, patience and multiple attempts serving the same new foods to change kids’ preferences, so starting with a simple idea like a healthy food taste test can win people over.

5. “We don’t want to break with our school’s traditions.”

You might hear statements like, “We’ve always had an ice cream social to reward our star athletes,” or “We’ve had a cookie dough fundraiser for the past 20 years.” If your school traditions don’t align with having a positive impact on student achievement and healthy habits, it’s time to create some new traditions. If your school began having ice cream parties 20 years ago, chances are kids back then had a lot more opportunities for exercise to burn off those excess calories. Not only are many of today’s children overfed and undernourished, few are getting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity recommended per day. There is no harm in trying something new one time, and it shows the administration is being innovative and forward thinking. And hey, with you at the helm, it might stick!

6. “These foods are a part of our heritage.”

As with school traditions, anything that feels like a change to someone’s culture can be hard. We’re not suggesting any heritage should discard its traditions in every setting all the time. But the goal here is to limit or restrict unhealthier foods in the school setting, and we all have favorite traditional foods our families love that aren’t quite so healthy. Sometimes traditional foods can be prepared in a healthier fashion: switch to whole grains, leaner meats and lower-fat dairy products. Add in vegetables. Go back to your roots―some “traditional foods” originating from cultures outside the United States were healthier before they became popular in this country. Adding new, healthier traditions—no matter what your heritage is—is also a great way to preserve those traditions.

7. “We can’t afford any new initiatives – how will we pay for wellness activities?”

Creating a healthy school culture takes time, patience, creativity and perseverance. For some projects, funding is necessary, but those projects don’t have to be done all at once, and many can be done without any funding at all (e.g., Healthy Classroom Parties, Healthy Rewards, Nutrition Promotion, Movement Breaks, Recess Before Lunch, etc.). When funding is needed, you can help your school apply for grants or you can seek out community partners for support.

No matter who you are talking to or trying to persuade to join you in your efforts, use student and community health as a filter and even a conversation starter when you plan your activities. Become a champion for student health—talk it up, start the conversation in your community. Because good nutrition and physical activity are so important to learning and student performance, they should have a prominent place at the table when academic initiatives are being considered – funded or otherwise. When your school community starts to understand how important nutrition and physical activity are to learning—and when they see the benefits even from one small activity—they may be more willing to invest their time and their resources in culture change.

Categories: Making Change Happen