Superheroes Unite for School Health!

Linda Morse, ASHA President

Linda Morse, ASHA President

Witches and goblins, and ghosts—oh my! With a chill in the air and the leaves turning red and gold, school has now been in session more than 8 weeks.  The media has been abuzz with stories on Halloween parties during school time, candy and treat distribution in communities and costume safety.  At the same time, I’ve also read that parents are concerned about obesity and drug use, and that bullying remains an important issue for them too.  On the national political front, a day does not go by that a candidate does not bring up mental health and gun control.  We hear a lot about wealth versus poverty, disparities versus equity and advantages versus opportunities.  Perhaps it is time for us to put on our superhero costumes and get to work!

To those of us in the school health business, we don’t just talk about these issues during election time.  We live and breathe this reality every day and most of us don’t just talk about it, we chose our career paths to DO something about these issues.  The great tennis player Arthur Ashe said “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”  School health professionals are my heroes.

Over the next year, we are bound to hear a lot of rhetoric about making America greater, stronger, and somehow better.  However, unless we pay real attention to the problems that impact our youngest citizens, the “non-voters,” we will never accomplish those goals.

  • No child should have to attend a school where armed guards and police roam the halls or where teachers keep a gun locked in a drawer. Our kids need to feel safe in school, not feel like they are serving time in prison.
  • Every child should have access to safe drinking water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nutritious and tasty school lunches.
  • All kids need fresh air and time to play, imagine, and run free. It’s called a break for adults but it’s called recess for kids.  And we ALL need a break.
  • If we are ever to reduce healthcare costs, every child needs to learn how to take care of his/her body—and their whole body not just selected parts! PreK-12 health education is at the core of all learning.
  • We must teach kids how to move safely and in ways that support better health. That’s called physical education. Through these classes, kids come to appreciate the physical and mental benefits of daily physical activity and learn to enjoy it!
  • We must teach children and youth to make decisions and then we must empower them to do so, guiding them when they need help and praising them when they do the right thing.
  • If we are ever going to improve school attendance and learning, we must provide access to school health services that work with the child’s medical home and his/her family to ensure compliance with care. We must also provide health screenings and referrals to identify potential problems that might interfere with learning.
  • We must provide school-based counseling and mental health programs beginning in elementary schools that help identify kids and families in need and coordinate their care with community agencies. Relying on a high school “guidance” counselor who helps with college admissions is simply not effective and it’s not enough.
  • From the first day of school, we must engage parents as partners and allies, not as enemies. We can’t talk down to parents any more than we can talk down to our kids. Only when parents and schools work together can we help kids get the best education and help them on the road to good health. We must find creative ways to reach all parents and families.
  • We have to involve the students in creating and implementing school health programs that meet their needs. This means ALL kids must get involved, not just student leaders and athletes.  We make far too many decisions about kids without ever asking them what they think, want to need.

It’s a scary time.  Our resources are tight and the mood of the nation is fragile. We have another whole year of political rhetoric, new promises that will never be kept, and a system that continues to focus on special interests.  Let’s face it, kids don’t vote.

Well, I know my special interest: kids.  They are the future of our great nation—the world rests in the hands of those ghosts, goblins, and witches knocking on your door shouting “Trick or Treat!”  How will you respond?  Will you trick them into thinking that everything is fine, that everyone is truly created equal, and that great things are ahead for every child?  Or will you answer the door wearing your superhero costume, offer them an apple and a pat on the head and get right back to work advocating for what is just, fair, and right?  Every child deserves to attend a school where he/she feels safe, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged.  And, oh by the way, happy might be nice too.

School health superheroes unite!  The time has come to get your superhero gear ready. We have a lot of work to do!