Enlisting Middle School Parents to Push for Healthy Kids

By Michele Molnar — November 27, 2012 2 min read

When Michelle Smith became a middle school parent, she was surprised to see only three parents at a PTA meeting. “Where are middle school parents?” wondered Smith, now state coordinator for Texas Action for Healthy Kids and co-director for the Southern Obesity Summit.

“Our PTA produced a newsletter, did a carnival and that was about it. I started asking why? What was wrong? Where were the parents I had worked with just a year before?,” she asked during a webinar today sponsored by Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) called “Parents CATCH on to Wellness!”

Smith just finished a three-year project for Action for Healthy Kids with a goal of engaging middle school parents in wellness activities in schools. She found that parents have many reasons for “dropping out” of middle school participation, and she has discovered many ways to get them re-energized for her cause, which is to create healthier children.

Among the reasons parents withdraw from middle school:

  • Kids didn’t really want them there.
  • Parents themselves felt they weren’t welcome.
  • Parents already volunteered with their other children in elementary school.
  • Parents are burned out on volunteering.
  • They splinter off into smaller subsets, volunteering where their children’s interests are, such as sports, band, or choir.

“By engaging parents, we’re increasing the ability of schools to do a lot more around health and wellness,” said Smith, who noted that sometimes even principals needed convincing of the worthiness of a health push at school.

Based on a three-year grant project funded by Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Action for Healthy Kids has developed resources and ideas for getting middle school parents more engaged. From working on policy at the Campus Advisory Council to helping with Family Fun nights, parents can play a key role in school and at home.

In Smith’s experience, parents need to:

  • Be educated about issues around health;
  • Find simple tasks for parents that they can relate to;
  • Identify simple, easy steps to behavior change—such as swapping out some sugary drinks for water, or increasing physical activity;
  • Connect health and academics;
  • Recruit parents from the 5th grade;
  • Help schools communicate/connect with parents; and,
  • Recruit bilingual parents to the cause.
  • To motivate parents, and communicate with them, Smith said a CATCH newsletter with a consistent message to increase physical activity, and improve healthy eating proved to be valuable. It reminded parents that they are role models for their students’ behavior.

The action team created four videos around healthy living concepts: “Swap Out Sodas;" “Let’s Get Moving;" “Load Up on Fruits and Veggies;" and “Reduce Screen Time.”

Among the success stories was a Texas middle school where, over a three-year period, the following activities were conducted:

  • Family Fitness Fun Night;
  • A cafeteria makeover that included stripes painted on walls and signage about fruits and veggies;
  • A program in which fathers volunteered to come to lunch one day a month and play basketball, soccer or another game with the students after lunch;
  • School gardens, established by a parent; and
  • Safe Routes to School, which got another parent involved in securing bicycle racks and creating more sidewalks to make walking to school more feasible.

To access resources for parents and schools interested in promoting health, go to the Action for Healthy Kids website.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read