Education professionals or volunteers from local, state, or national organizations are encouraged to take action on one or more of the roles and responsibilities identified below that can promote adolescent health and healthy development.
The Education Field: Making a Difference
By tradition and design, schools are intended to facilitate children’s academic development. However, the links between health and academic achievement are also well-established. Schools also address other developmental needs such as students’ social, emotional, and health needs. There are a number of ways that schools support adolescent health, though this varies greatly across schools, cities and towns, and states.
- Currently most school systems offer adolescents health education classes
- In most schools, adolescents can participate in physical activities, including physical education
- Many schools have a school nurse and a counselor
- Health training requirements for school teachers, nurses, and other staff also vary widely from school to school within and across states
- Many schools provide food at reduced or no cost to students who qualify through school meal programs. For some children, this is their primary place for nourishment
- Some schools sponsor healthy eating initiatives
- Finally, the physical environment and layout of the school can greatly affect adolescent’s health (for example, the presence of environmental toxins in a school, proper ventilation for fresh air, or whether the school has areas for physical activity or not)
Action Steps and Resources
- Create a supportive and safe school climate
- Strengthen or increase offerings and activities that support healthy development
- Support social and emotional development
- Be a resource on health to students and their families
- Implement annual health and safety assessments and coordinate with community efforts
- Ensure schools are environmentally-healthy settings for learning
- Use open spaces to promote physical activity
Create a supportive and safe school climate
Develop an inclusive, caring, secure, and welcoming climate for adolescents and their families. Make certain that every student, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, feels safe and is supported. Provide opportunities to participate in school leadership and honor youth voices and opinions. Foster a positive physical and psycho-social atmosphere and incorporate that it into discipline and classroom management policies. Ensure all school staff have information about community health resources, the process for referring students, as well as legal reporting responsibilities and any confidentiality laws, regulations, and policies.
Strengthen or increase health curricula and activities that support healthy development
Build students’ knowledge, skills, and positive approaches toward health and infuse positive, healthy development into all aspects of the curriculum. Include lessons that teach the benefits of avoiding risky health behaviors and fostering lifelong healthy habits. Teach problem-solving, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. Offer music, visual and performing arts, technology, foreign languages, and other courses that build healthy connections between students and their school. Offer physical exercise activities during and after school that can be enjoyed into adulthood and create partnerships with community-based nonprofits and volunteer groups to support them. Provide healthy options in school meal programs and vending machines.
Support social and emotional development
Provide all school staff with training on the rapid and profound social and emotional development of adolescents. Teach students how to develop and maintain healthy relationships with both peers and adults, which will help minimize bullying and other harmful interactions. Establish procedures that encourage safe reports of bullying and ensure policies are in place to handle these issues. Teach conflict-resolution and anger management skills, which helps mitigate behavioral challenges and manage classrooms in positive ways.2
Be a resource on health to students and their families
Inform students of health resources available through the school. Encourage parent involvement and promote regular communication between school and home. Share information with families through newsletters, emails, school website, and parent meetings on normal developmental milestones for adolescents, how to encourage healthy behaviors, and how to help their children avoid risky behaviors.
Implement annual health and safety assessments and coordinate with community efforts
Conduct annual assessments to identify strengths and weaknesses of health and safety policies. Develop an improvement plan and collaborate with teachers, parents, students, public health agencies, and the community to promote health-enhancing behaviors that mitigate risk and maximize protective factors.3
Ensure schools are environmentally-healthy settings for learning
Regularly monitor the school’s environmental health to ensure it is free from toxins and other potential hazards, that it is clean, and that the building and classrooms are safe and in good repair. Provide clean and safe water for drinking and washing, minimize unnecessary noise, and be certain indoor and outdoor areas are well-lit. Test air quality for carbon dioxide and dampness and use green cleaning products.4
Use open spaces to promote physical activity
In addition to PE classes, utilize gyms and outdoor spaces such as fields, tracks, and paved areas to encourage physical activity, especially during breaks, lunchtime, and before or after school. Mark paved areas to encourage a variety of games, provide outdoor basketball hoops, and erect appropriate playground structures (especially for younger adolescents). Support community organizations in using the facilities for youth and family programs during evenings, weekends, and school breaks.
Healthy Schools Campaign, & Health, T.f.A. s. (2012). Health in Mind: Executive Summary.. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://healthyamericans.org/assets/files/Health_in_Mind_Exec_Summary_Recs.pdf
Terzian, M.; Hamilton, K.; Ling, T. (2011). What Works for Acting-Out (Externalizing) Behavior: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Social Interactions. Child Trends. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Externalizing-Behavior.docx
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School Health Index: A Self-Assessment and Planning Guide. Middle school/high school version. Atlanta, Georgia. 2012. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/shi/
Coalition for Healthier Schools (2013). Towards Healthy Schools 2015: Progress on America's Environmental Health Crisis for Children. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://www.healthyschools.org/HealthySchools2015.pdf