Sunday, 6 November 2011

Comprehensive School Health: Making it Work Together

 More than ever schools are places where students connect and interact socially, as well as intellectually, with their peers and their community. As a consistent presence in the lives of children, schools give students a sense of community, safety and belonging. Health and education professionals need to work together to take advantage of this opportunity to create a framework for supporting improvement of learning and for developing healthier and happier students.

Its undeniable that education and health are interdependent. Healthy students are better learners, and better educated individuals become healthier citizens! We need to find ways to recognize, develop and strengthen this link; to bring forward initiatives that improve both health and educational outcomes, and allow students to learn and internalize healthy behaviors that can help them both during and beyond their school years.

One initiative is Comprehensive School Health (CSH).  Google Comprehensive School Health and you will find that it is an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in student educational outcomes, while also addressing health topics in a planned, integrated and holistic way. (or just find CSH at www.jcsh-cces.ca!) CSH focuses upon four inter related pillars - social and physical environment, teaching and learning, healthy school policy and partnerships and services. Many communities and school districts have any number of initiatives driven by local or provincial mandates that fit into one or more of the four pillars. The real challenge is coordinating agencies and policies to create a harmonious and effective CSH program.

The benefits of Comprehensive School Health are realized at many levels. In the classroom CSH facilitates improved academic achievement and can lead to fewer behavioral problems. In the broader school community students learn skills that allow them to be physically active and more aware of other factors that affect health such as sleep or nutrition. Healthier students maintain better habits for a lifetime, helping to reduce the stress on community health services.

So how do schools and districts move towards achieving comprehensive school health? Formally recognizing that healthy young people learn better and achieve more is a start. Districts and schools committed to CSH understand that school can directly influence student health and behavior. They encourage healthy lifestyle choices and promote student health and well being. They incorporate health into all aspects of school and learning. At district level steps need to be taken to establish formal links between the education and health systems. Together both systems need to engage and encourage the participation and and support of families and the community at large.

Creating links is more easily said than done. Most folks will agree that actions that promote better health and education are good but few have concrete suggestions as to what should be done. Talk is cheap, action takes time and resources - commodities that are in short supply in both health and education. It is exactly this scarcity that makes the need to act even more important. As resources get stretched tighter and tighter it will be only through collaborative effort and partnerships that things will get done. 

Need and circumstance recently brought representatives from SD 60 together with representatives from Northern Health and the Ministry of Children and Families. Grappling with a particular situation brought the need for joint consultation and efforts more sharply into focus, and a schedule of regular meetings has been developed. It remains to be seen what might come out of our joint efforts, but the positive step is that we are meeting. Alone schools and health authorities can only do so much. Working together we can all do more. Hopefully together we can find ways of making Comprehensive School Health a reality for the students and families we serve.

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