Healthy Environment Healthy Children Healthy Communities?
No matter where you’re from we all want what’s best for our kids. Am I right? When it comes to wanting them to be healthy and happy. We’re all on the same page. Growing up in today’s world has many opportunities, but also has many challenges. The state of health of our young people influenced not only how they perceive themselves but also how they manage life’s ups and downs. So let’s look at how our kids are doing. By now it’s common knowledge that compared to their parents’ generation, kids are facing greater health risks than ever before. They don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables, a growing proportion is overweight or obese, and one in five is battling a mental health issue. Our children are at risk of being the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. With today’s younger generations being faced with so many obstacles, we have to look at how we can work together to make it better.
So let’s look at the big picture…It’s estimated that Earth is now home to over 7 billion people. We all have a role to play in working with our kids to help them lead healthy, active lives. Since we can all agree on wanting what’s best for our kids, What can we do to help them? People from around the world are making “Healthy Schools” a priority.
What is a healthy school, you’re probably wondering? Well, a healthy school involves the whole community, coming together, to share ideas, plan and take action. What we’re really talking about is an approach that involves all of us. When this is done, young people will be better equipped to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. They’ll be empowered to make healthy choices and manage the risks they face, whatever they may be. Sounds pretty simple right. However, it’s not as simple as you think and what we’re talking about here isn’t a one-person show. A healthy school really takes more than just the kids and school staff. It takes a community. You know the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child”.
Whether you work in recreation, education, public health, local business, or you’re a parent or a child, you can do this! Healthy schools are about empowering kids so their voice can be heard. By engaging kids in leadership opportunities, they’ll know from an early age that they can have an impact on themselves, their peers, their classroom, their school and their community. Because really, healthy living can’t just begin and end around the school day. We have to look at what happens before and after school as well.
Building healthy schools
In order to work towards Healthy Schools, let’s start with the basics. Think of it like building a house. Now, let’s start by pouring our foundation which comes from School and Classroom Leadership. It’s important for everyone to understand the issues facing kids in your community by identifying shared goals and priorities that meet the needs of the school community. It could be physical activity, healthy eating, mental health or safety, to name a few. Not sure what they are? Talk to people in your community, and make sure kids are included as part of this discussion.
Now that you’ve got your foundation, let’s put up our walls. When looking at Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning, we’re talking about what kids are learning before, during and after school through curriculum and programs that are delivered and supported by school staff and community partners. Kids develop skills and learn about themselves, their interests and strengths while having fun and feeling safe. If increasing physical activity is your priority, you could offer a variety of activities throughout the year to encourage kids to participate and be active. Social and Physical Environments also have an impact on kids. Positive relationships help build a safe, supportive social environment where all kids are informed, engaged and empowered to be active members of their communities.
For example, if tobacco use is an issue, youth can form a group to empower their peers to make informed choices and share weekly school announcements to ensure that their message reaches all students. A positive physical environment includes the school building itself, the surrounding school grounds, material and equipment, and other facilities in the school community. For example, healthy eating can be addressed by building a vegetable garden at your school. Then you can start a breakfast or snack program that is free of charge, available to everyone and offers healthy food choices. Local businesses can get involved by providing access to fresh, local food and students and school staff can get involved by providing fresh vegetables from the school garden. It’s obvious offering healthy foods make it easier for kids to engage in healthy eating, they might even bring some of those habits home with them.
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Utilizing the strengths of other community members supports Home, School, and Community Partnerships. These partnerships allow you to access services and resources in your community. Coordinating something like a walking program where participants clear local trails and routes, making them safe and accessible for everyone. Getting support from community members like students, parents, public health and recreation providers involves the whole community. Last, but certainly not least, every healthy school needs lots of opportunity for Student Engagement. To really make a change in your school community, young people need to be engaged to inform, participate in and lead activities. This can help them in creating a positive sense of self and belonging, allow them to take ownership of their learning, realize the impact they can have on their community and really enjoy the time they spend at school.
Now you’ve got your four walls, but what if it snows? You might need a roof. This starts with gathering community members and talking about how you can and do support kids in your community. And to keep your roof strong, keep those conversations going. Now that you’ve built your understanding and a pretty great house, it’s up to all of us to make this happen! Help spread the word, raise awareness for the importance of Healthy Schools by talking to community members about what you’ve learned and engage them in working towards and growing Healthy Schools in your community. Taking action only leads to success! Remember, Healthy schools, healthy communities!