Student Well-Being

New School Health Model Incorporates ‘Whole Child’ Principles

By Evie Blad — July 10, 2014 3 min read
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Federal officials and health experts unveiled a new school health model this week that incorporates “whole-child” elements—like school climate issues, student engagement, and community involvement—alongside components of the more traditional coordinated school health model that has been widely used since it was introduced in 1987.

That coordinated school health model helps leaders organize and coordinate various efforts to improve student health and well-being at school, and it is used by many national organizations as part of criteria for grant applications. “However, it has been viewed by educators as primarily a health initiative focused only on health outcomes and has consequently gained limited traction across the education sector at the school level,” said an announcement of the new model by the two organizations that helped create it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ASCD. The new model places greater emphasis on “the symbiotic relationship between learning and health,” and it places a greater emphasis on collaboration between schools and their surrounding communities.

The announcement of the new model—called Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child— came in a week packed full of efforts designed to emphasize that the needs of students extend beyond academics. On Tuesday, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan resolution supporting the whole-child approach to education. And, coinciding with the release of the school health model, the CDC released new materials about the connections between student health and academic achievement.

“It is time to really align the sectors and place the child at the center,” said Wayne Giles, the director of the division of population health at the CDC. “Both public health and education serve the same students, often in the same settings. We must do more to work together and collaborate.”

What comes next?

Representatives from the CDC and ASCD said they hope schools will adopt the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model and use it as others have used the coordinated school health approach in the past. Schools have used that model to guide efforts like convening student- and staff-health advisory boards who help make decisions and offer insights on issues like what’s served in the cafeteria, how exercise is incorporated into after-school activities, and what policies school leaders adopt related to health and well-being. Schools can also refer to the new model to ensure that they are meeting the CDC’s goals in their grant applications.

Some states have also used the coordinated school health model to guide policy decisions, to form task forces to explore the needs of students, and to make funding decisions. Through the new model, the organizations hope to break student-health efforts out of the silos they are sometimes forced into so that they can be more integrated into schoolwide efforts that involve employees like classroom teachers. The new model can also ensure schools and community organizations are on the same page about their cooperative efforts.

What about that resolution?

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill., introduced the resolution this week, and the Student Health Advocacy Coalition, a network of health and education associations, is asking other lawmakers to sign on as cosponsors. The nonbinding measure, which has been referred to committee, “expresses support for a whole-child approach to education; recognizes the benefit of ensuring students are challenged, supported, healthy, safe, and engaged; encourages parents, educators, and community members to support a whole-child approach to education for each student; and encourages the federal government to identify opportunities among federal agencies to coordinate the education, health, and social service sectors serving youth in the United States.”

While it would be nice to see our democratically elected lawmakers (who can barely agree on the name of a post office) agree that the whole-child approach is important, the resolution wouldn’t lead to any guaranteed policy change. Like everyone else who wants something from Congress, promoters of integrating health and academics are also asking for money. Specifically, the Student Health Advocacy Coalition would like more funding for the CDC’s School Health Branch and Division of Adolescent and School Health.

Is there a slick video I can watch about this?

I’m glad you asked.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.