Spotlight

AASA Pushes Good Health on Schools

by Rebecca Roberts

AASA has worked with school leaders on prominent issues that affect children’s health and academic success for more than 30 years, spanning topics such as childhood obesity, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, healthy school environments, asthma and after-school programming.

AASA has many resources and tools available for school leaders to use in school districts to address the issues of schoolwide health. These come in the form of collaborative partnerships, meetings, presentations, technical assistance calls, and print and electronic resources.

Some of the association’s major initiatives in the area of health are these:

Collaborating with cities on wellness plans
AASA has partnered with the National League of Cities to create teams of city officials and school district leaders to address childhood obesity in their communities by creating and implementing local wellness policies. For example, schools can encourage students to walk to school, but if there are no sidewalks or other traffic or safety hazards exist, this presents a major deterrent to encouraging students to be active and underscores the importance of having both the school and city working together.

Six teams of city leaders and school leaders were competitively chosen to participate in a one-year technical assistance project with AASA and the NLC. The six cities are Charleston, S.C.; Jackson, Tenn.; La Mesa, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; and Savannah, Ga.

During the course of 2007-08, the teams receive information through conference calls and electronic newsletters on available resources and valuable connections to develop wellness plans in their communities. They have the opportunity to visit a city and school site to see exemplary projects and programs in action and to meet as a larger group up to twice throughout the year to share successes and brainstorm ways to work together to overcome challenges.

This project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Other aspects of AASA’s work on this issue include AASA staff working closely with nine AASA state affiliates to address childhood obesity with leaders in their state; publishing of an occasional newsletter, Healthy Learning News, that highlights success stories from school districts; and organ-izing presentations for school leaders to share their lessons with their peers at state and national meetings, including AASA’s National Conference on Education.

Reducing asthma in schools
The importance of partnerships is evident in AASA’s project addressing asthma in schools. AASA collaborates with the National School Boards Association to work with top-tier school district decision makers to create strategic partnerships focused on reducing the impact of asthma on children in schools.

As part of this project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, five of AASA’s state affiliates have come together with their counterparts at the state school boards associations to raise awareness and improve the school environment for children with asthma. Each team was asked to find at least two other team members who could contribute knowledge or effort to the goal of building the capacity of superintendents and school board members.

In Wisconsin, the team reached out to establish itself within existing collaborations. Recognizing that asthma most likely will never reach prominent status, the team used a contact at the state department of health to learn of a statewide asthma coalition that did not have a schools representative. Because of their charge through AASA, the team leader is now a member of the Wisconsin Asthma Coalition executive committee.

Creating coalitions for urban and rural districts
An important contributor to asthma-related and respiratory illnesses in schools is the quality of the school environment, including the air inside the school buildings that students, staff and administration breathe. Students who are having trouble breathing or aren’t physically comfortable in the school environment are less likely to succeed academically.

AASA has worked with school districts to create and maintain healthy school environments since 1991 through funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. AASA shares resources with school leaders on how to address this issue through publications, presentations, training and technical assist-ance, virtual seminars and conferences.

To address the specific conditions inherent to urban schools, AASA created the Urban Healthy Schools Coalition in 2002. Composed of 14 school districts with representation from superintendents, facilities staff, hygienists and school health personnel, this group interacts throughout the year to help each other problem solve and share successes. The expertise of these coalition members is used in AASA publications: Schoolhouse In the Red: An Administrators Guide to Improving America’s School Facilities and Environment and Putting the Pieces Together: An Urban School Leader’s Guide to Healthy Environments.

AASA launched the Rural Healthy Schools Coalition in April 2007 through an online application process to network rural school districts. The coalition hopes to confront such issues as the possible increase in asthma triggers through the use of pesticides or crop dusting, as well as other issues specific to rural school districts. The Rural Coalition had its kickoff meeting in September.

AASA is seeking additional members for these coalition networks.

Information about current projects, available resources and primary contacts can be found at www.aasa.org/ChildrensPrograms.aspx. For details on any of these activities, contact Mlatibe Seidou at mseidou@aasa.org.

Rebecca Roberts is project director at AASA.