5 TIPS FOR SCHOOLS

A family enjoying a healthy meal outdoors

Children spend a large part of their day in school, so it makes sense that the health environment of the school – food options, recess and physical activity time, health and wellness education – would have a huge impact on their overall health. As a teacher or school administrator, you have an opportunity to enhance the health of the children at your school by improving the nutrition and physical activity options available to them. The steps below represent important areas for you to take action and make an immediate impact.

Tip 1

Increase opportunities for physical activity and education

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Physical activity and physical education – different but equally important components of a child’s school experience – are important for children’s health, psychological well-being and academic performance. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that both physical activity and physical education should be a part of every school day.

Physical education curriculum is taught according to state and national standards by a qualified physical education teacher. Physical education should be developmentally appropriate and emphasize skill-building and motor development.

Physical activity is time spent being moderately to vigorously active, and can include short bursts of movement, periods of free play, or teacher-led activities.  Children should engage in 60 minutes of structured physical activity and 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity each day in order to maintain good health.

Tip 2

Adopt a joint-use agreement

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Joint-use agreements are written contracts between schools and other public agencies (e.g., Parks and Recreation Departments) or non-profits that open up schools after hours for use by the community. Joint-use agreements create access to school fields, playground equipment, gyms and basketball courts.

Idaho Code 33-601 allows a school district’s board of trustees to rent out school property to others, authorizes the use of a school building as a community center for public purpose, and allows the board to enter into a contract with any city.

Examples of Joint Use Agreements include:
- Opening outdoor school facilities for use during non-school hours
- Opening indoor school facilities, such as gyms, for use during non-school hours
- Opening school facilities for use during non-school hours and authorizing third parties, such as youth sports leagues, to operate programs
- Joint use of school and city recreation facilities, where the school district and local government agree to open recreational facilities to each other for community and school use and allows for third parties to operate programs in the facilities.

Tip 3

Host a Screen Free Week

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time (TV, computers, video games, tablets or cell phones) for children under age two, and fewer than two hours of screen time per day for children two and older.  However, research finds that 64 percent of babies and toddlers are watching an average of two hours of screen time per day, and 36 percent have a television in their bedroom by their second birthday. By the time children are 8 to 18 years old, they are consuming an average of over seven hours per day of screen media.

The results are clear: Screen time is habit-forming and linked to obesity, difficulties with attention and hyperactivity, school performance problems, and emotional and conduct problems.

Challenge your class or school to host a Screen-Free Week!

Tip 4

Collect BMI

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Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple calculation that provides a quick snapshot of a child’s overall health. During school nurse visits or physical education classes, take a minute to calculate and track the BMI of students, and discuss what their BMI level means with students and their families. Discuss the health impacts that result from high BMI levels – diabetes, heart disease, etc. – and talk to students and families about ways to work on improving their nutrition and physical activity to get BMI levels down to a healthier range.

Tip 5

Safe Routes to School

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Three decades ago, 66 percent of children walked or biked to school – today, that number is only 15 percent. More children being driven to school means more congestion and pollution, and less physical activity for the children. The Safe Routes to School program was developed in 2005 to combat this problem by making walking and biking safer and more viable options for children to get to school. Each year, Idaho receives approximately $1 million for Safe Routes to School projects. Grants are available to schools that need funds for infrastructure projects, and training and support is available for all schools interested in implementing the program.

If walking and biking all the way from home to school is not a viable option, consider an alternative:  Identify a parking area near the school (.5 to 1 mile) where parents can drop off children, and then children can walk or bike from there. Adult volunteers could even lead a group, allowing the children to get some activity before school while also decreasing the traffic congestion around the school.

Another novel idea is a Walking School Bus, where an adult volunteer walks through a neighborhood, “picking up” children along their route to school. This method provides a safe way for children to walk to school under adult supervision.