Talk the Talk: School Health Glossary - Action for Healthy Kids
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Talk the Talk: School Health Glossary

Do you nod your head wisely when school health experts are talking, but secretly feel clueless about what they’re saying? You’re not alone! It takes time, experience and research to understand how the school health landscape works. Here’s your cheat sheet to get a grip on the jargon you might hear when an expert is in the room. (That is, until you become the expert in the room.)

General School Wellness Terms

Accountability Committee – A group of individuals that manage the school improvement planning process for an individual school (SAC) or district (DAC), and may include teachers, administrators, parents, students and/or other school stakeholders and community members. May also be called a school improvement team, committee or council.

Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) – A public organization that provides shared educational programming and services to two or more school districts, allowing districts to pool their resources and operate programs in a more cost-effective manner.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – The CDC is one of the major operating components of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It serves as the national focus for developing and applying disease prevention and control, environmental health, health promotion and health education activities designed to improve the health of the people of the United States.

Coordinated School Health – A model framework or blueprint for integrating health-promoting practices in the school setting that was recommended by the CDC from 1987 until 2014, at which time it adopted the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model, combining coordinated school health with the whole child approach.

District Wellness Committee – A group of individuals working at the school district level to identify health concerns across all schools in the district, promote and celebrate healthy practices, develop district wellness policy and guidelines and assess policy implementation. May also be called a school health advisory council (SHAC), district health advisory council (DHAC) or something else entirely.

District Wellness Coordinator – A school district employee who oversees health and wellness initiatives, champions best practices in school health and helps schools meet health guidelines set by the district. Duties and funding for this position vary from district to district.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – A bipartisan measure signed into federal law in December 2015 that reauthorizes national education law and a national commitment to equal opportunity for all students. Replacing the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA shifts regulatory power from the federal government to the states, recognizes the need for schools to support the whole child and acknowledges the importance of health and wellness.

Evidenced-Based Program – A program or resource that has been informed by or designed using objective evidence about the effectiveness of its strategies or approach.

Game On – An online, no-cost, multi-year program developed by Action for Healthy Kids to help K-12 schools practice good nutrition and physical activity habits.

Healthy Lifestyles – A National PTA program which provides family-centered education and tools to encourage families to advocate for healthy changes in nutrition and physical activity.

The Learning Connection – Studies have shown that well-nourished kids learn better and physical activity supports academic achievement. This connection between good food, active bodies and student performance represents an opportunity for schools to give their students a clear academic advantage by instituting healthy policies and practices that get kids eating better and moving more.

Local Educational Agency (LEA) – A public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State that is recognized as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools. More commonly referred to as a school district. Note: a charter school may be part of an LEA or may be its own LEA depending on the charter school laws of the state.

Local School Wellness Policy (LSWP) – Federal law requires all school districts, or other “local educational agencies” (LEAs), that participate in national school meal programs to have a written wellness policy in place that includes certain standards and guidelines to promote student health. Your district wellness policy is a local school wellness policy under the federal regulations.

Out-of-School Time Program (OST) – A program that provides regularly scheduled, structured and supervised activities serving school-age children (K-12) outside of the typical school day, including private and public programs in a variety of settings.

School Age Child Care (SACC) – Offered by some schools and districts, SACC is an out-of-school time program that provides before and after-school childcare on-site at school as a convenience to working families since transportation is not an issue. A quality SACC program promotes good nutrition and offers kids plenty of time to be active.

School Health Action Plan – A document that lays out a schools priorities, strategies, implementation steps and timeline for improving the school food environment, increasing physical activity and other health-related initiatives.

School Health Index (SHI) – An online self-assessment and planning tool developed by CDC that schools can use to improve their health and safety policies and programs. Action for Healthy Kids has worked closely with CDC to offer schools an abbreviated online version of the SHI that addresses two health topics: nutrition and physical activity.

School Health Team – A group of individuals working at the individual school level (also called building level) to identify health concerns, lead projects that promote health, raise funds for health-related initiatives, promote and celebrate healthy practices. May also be called a school wellness committee, school health advisory council (SHAC), school health improvement team, healthy lifestyles committee or something else entirely.

School Improvement Plan (SIP) – An action plan usually created by a school improvement team or accountability committee that outlines the changes a school needs to make to improve student achievement. An SIP sets goals related to curriculum delivery, creating a positive learning environment and other things that impact student performance. SIPs serve as a mechanism to measure student success and to hold schools and districts accountable to their communities and to the state education system.

School Wellness Assessment – An inventory or survey of the policies and practices a school or district has in place related to school health. Conducting an assessment before developing a school health action plan will help determine a school’s areas of strength and weakness, identify needs and set priorities. The School Health Index is a school wellness assessment tool recommended by CDC and used by Action for Healthy Kids.

Social-Emotional Health – A person’s ability to form secure relationships, experience and regulate emotions and explore and learn. The social and emotional climate of a school can impact student engagement in school activities, relationships with other students, staff, family and community members, and academic performance.

Sustainability – A school wellness program or initiative has sustainability if it is designed as an ongoing initiative rather than a one-time event and if it has the support and resources it needs to continue into the future.

Technical Assistance – Training, consultation, coaching or other forms of assistance given to individuals, groups or teams to help them create strategies, devise and implement solutions and address specific challenges related to a specific topic such as school health.

Title I School – A school with a high percentage of children from low-income families (based primarily on census poverty estimates and the cost of education in each state) that receives financial assistance from the federal government to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Made up of 29 agencies and offices, the USDA establishes policy and provides government leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition and related issues.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) – Food and Nutrition Service is an agency of the USDA. It works to end hunger and obesity through the administration of 15 federal nutrition assistance programs including WIC, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and school meals. The agency sets the federal nutrition standards for school food and governs federal wellness policy requirements.

USDA Team Nutrition – An initiative of USDA Food and Nutrition Service which supports the Child Nutrition Programs through grants to state agencies, training and technical assistance for foodservice, nutrition education for children and their caregivers, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity.

Wellness School Assessment Tool (WellSAT) – An assessment tool developed by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity in 2010 and updated in 2014 for evaluating the comprehensiveness and strength of school wellness policies. The WellSAT measures the quality of written policies. The Rudd Center is developing a tool (WellSAT-i) to measure wellness policy implementation.

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) – A model framework recommended by the CDC and adopted by many districts and school communities across the country to help them develop comprehensive school health strategies. The WSCC model is a collaborative approach that includes 10 components of school health that address the physical and emotional needs of children. It has a strong focus on engaging community resources to support health and educational outcomes for students.

School Nutrition

À La Carte – Items offered for sale by school nutrition programs that are not included as part of a reimbursable breakfast or lunch meal. These foods are considered competitive foods.

Alternative Breakfast Model – Traditionally, school breakfast has been served in the cafeteria before school starts. Alternative breakfast models remove barriers to participation that many traditional school breakfast programs face, such as late bus schedules, long cafeteria lines and the stigma associated with coming to school early to take advantage of free or reduced-price meals. Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab ‘N’ Go Breakfast, Breakfast on the Bus and Second Chance Breakfast are all alternative models.

Backpack Food Program – A program that provides a bag of nonperishable food to children that they can take home on weekends or during breaks and eat when school meal programs are unavailable. Backpack programs help underserved families and are often run by volunteers and sustained by donations from community members, community partners and private foundations.

Breakfast after the Bell – Instead of serving school breakfast in the cafeteria before school starts, Breakfast after the Bell is an alternative breakfast model available to everyone, no matter their income level. It’s eaten after the opening bell and is often served in classrooms, or through grab and go kiosks located around the school, making it more likely that children will participate.

Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) – An alternative breakfast model in which children eat together in the classroom at the start of the school day after the first bell while the teacher takes attendance, makes announcements or teaches a short lesson. Breakfast is delivered to the classroom or grabbed by students from a cart in the hallway or picked up in the cafeteria and taken to the classroom. See: Alternative Breakfast Model

Breakfast on the Bus – An alternative breakfast model in which breakfast is handed brown bag style to students as they step onto their school bus. The model works best for students who have longer commutes, and it does not take up instructional time.

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) – A meal service option offered by the USDA to the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students through a program that lessens the burden of completing eligibility paperwork for in-need families.

Competitive Foods – Foods and beverages that are offered for sale in school in competition with school meals. These foods are reimbursed by the federal government and include such as items that are sold in vending machines, à la carte lines in the cafeteria, snack carts, school stores and as fundraisers or through any other channels.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization – National school meal programs are permanently authorized by the federal government, however specific provisions, standards and funding have to be reauthorized every five years.

Garden to Cafeteria – A program that incorporates produce from school gardens into school meals.

Grab ‘N’ Go Breakfast – Typically served from carts in easily accessible locations such as the front hallway, Grab ‘N’ Go breakfast is an alternative breakfast model and a practical and appealing way to reach hungry kids in a hurry and boost participation in school breakfast programs, ensuring that more kids are fueled up and ready to learn.

Farm to School – A program that connects K-12 schools and local farms with the objectives of improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities and supporting local and regional farmers.

Food Desert – A geographic area without easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable foods, largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.

Food Insecurity – A condition experienced by families or individuals with limited or uncertain access to adequate food to meet their nutritional needs. Chronic hunger may result from food insecurity.

Free and Reduced Price School Meal Eligibility – Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for free school meals. Children from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for reduced-price meals. Children from families with incomes over 185% of the poverty level pay full price, however their meals are still subsidized by the federal government to some extent.

Free and Reduced Rate (FRL) – Percent of students in a school who qualify for free or reduced price meals. Schools with higher free and reduced price eligibility rates are typically eligible for more grants and other forms of assistance. Also referred to as free and reduced lunch.

Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) – Federal legislation passed in 2010 that improved the nutritional quality of school meals, strengthened accountability for food service staff around school meals, required the USDA to establish national nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, strengthened requirements for local school wellness policies and improved meal financing to support healthy school meals. This legislation must be reauthorized every five years (see Child Nutrition Reauthorization).

National School Lunch Program (NSLP) – Federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced lunches to millions of children at participating public and nonprofit private schools. Participating schools receive cash subsidies and commodity foods from the USDA. In exchange they must meet federal nutrition standards and offer free and reduced-price meals to eligible students.

Reimbursable School Meal – A school meal that meets federal nutrition standards and is subsidized by the federal government. Reimbursement rates for each meal vary depending on the income level of the student’s family and the number of eligible students in the community.

School Breakfast Program (SBP) – Federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced breakfasts to millions of children at participating public and non-profit private schools. Participating schools receive cash subsidies from the USDA. In exchange they must meet federal nutrition standards and offer free and reduced-price meals to eligible students.

School Food Authority (SFA) – The governing body which is responsible for the administration of one or more schools and has legal authority to operate the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program therein or be otherwise approved by FNS to operate the program.

School Food Culture – The school food “culture” goes way beyond the cafeteria. It includes how food is used in the classroom, in the front office, for celebrations and family events, and for fundraising activities. A healthy school food culture is reflected in school policies and practices, modeled by school staff and volunteers, and is supported by consistent messaging about healthy eating across all aspects of school life.

Second Chance Breakfast – An alternative breakfast model in which breakfast is offered as a break in the morning (often after first period for older students in secondary schools), allowing students who are normally not hungry first thing in the morning to eat just a bit later.

Smart Snacks in School – Federal nutrition standards that went into effect in 2014-2015 for all foods sold in school on the campus during the school day, other than those provided as part of school meal programs. Examples include à la carte items sold in the cafeteria and foods sold in school stores, snack bars, vending machines and as fundraisers that are intended to be eaten on the spot.

Smarter Lunchrooms – A nationwide movement based on proven strategies for nudging students to select and eat the healthiest foods in the school lunchroom.

Summer Food Service Program – Federally assisted meal program offered through some schools and other community sites that ensures low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session during the summer months. Also known as the Summer Meals Program.

Universal School Breakfast – A school breakfast model which offers breakfast free of charge to all students regardless of income level. When all students are offered a free breakfast, the stigma associated with school breakfast is reduced, leading to higher participation rates, especially when combined with an alternative breakfast model.

USDA Foods – Surplus agricultural products (or commodity foods) owned by the government as a result of price-support agreements with farmers. Schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program receive an annual allotment of USDA Foods which is dependent on the number of meals they serve. Typical commodities available include meat, poultry, eggs, grain products, cheese, fruits and vegetables.

Physical Education and Physical Activity

Active Recess – A recess program that encourages students to move more using a variety of strategies, such as the provision of adequate equipment, strategic placement of equipment, playground markings, the creation of physical activity zones, and training of school staff, student leaders and volunteers as recess coaches.

Active Indoor Recess – A recess program that keeps kids active inside when the weather is bad outside with indoor fitness equipment and planned activities led by school staff, student leaders or volunteers.

Active Transportation – Any self-propelled, human-powered mode of transportation, such as walking or biking.

Built Environment – The physical infrastructure of a community where people live and work such as homes, buildings, streets, open spaces and parks/paths. The built environment in a community influences a person’s ability to be physically active. For example, sidewalks and walking or biking paths help increase the level of physical activity.

Classroom Activity Breaks – Movement breaks during the school day used to boost students’ brain activity and help them return to their lessons more focused and ready to learn. Classroom activity breaks help kids get the 60 minutes of physical activity they need daily. Also called energizers, brain breaks, brain boosters, fitness breaks, etc.

Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP) – A systematic, coordinated approach recommended by national experts for schools to use to help students get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. A CSPAP has five components including 1) high-quality physical education, 2) physical activity during school, 3) physical activity before and after school, 4) staff involvement and 5) family and community engagement.

PE Waivers, Exemptions and Substitutions – Some schools allow students to opt out of required PE classes to prepare for other classes, or for testing or exempted/allowed to substitute other activities (such as athletics). National experts recommend that these waivers, exemptions and substitutions not be allowed.

Physical Activity – Any activity that gets the body moving. In the school setting that can include physical activity that happens during PE class or at recess, fitness breaks throughout the school day, classroom learning that incorporates physical activity, before and after-school programming, field trips that include physical activity and walk/bike to school programs. Physical activity programs also provide opportunities for students to practice what they learn in PE classes.

Physical Education (PE) – An academic subject that provides students with planned, sequential, standards-based instruction designed to develop motor skills, knowledge and behaviors for healthy active living, physical fitness, sportsmanship, self-efficacy and emotional intelligence. A quality PE program focuses on teaching kids how to keep themselves fit and should be the foundation of a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program.

Recess Before Lunch – Scheduling recess before lunch is considered a best practice for student health. Kids tend to eat a better lunch if they’ve already had their time on the playground, leading to less waste and better behavior and academic performance. Also called Recess Reversal.

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) – Initiatives led by schools, parents, community leaders and local, state, and federal governments to encourage walking and biking to school. Effective programs work to improve safety and accessibility to help make bicycling and walking to school safer and more appealing, thus encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age.

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