Ensure Health & Safety of Students
To promote healthy lifestyles at home and at school
Whole child education is dedicated to developing socially, emotionally, and academically successful students. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet and getting the recommended amount of physical activity every day are important to maintaining a healthy weight and maximizing academic performance. Barriers to providing nutritious foods and opportunities for daily physical activity exist both at home and at school; these barriers can be diminished through a stronger family-school partnership around advocacy, mobilization and family education—PTA’s areas of expertise.
Healthy systems are wholistic. However, public education can be compartmentalized by grade level, school sites and neighborhoods. Community schools are an example of seeing public schools as hubs, where you can bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities including a focus on healthy students. Physically, socially, and emotionally; students live and learn in a safe, supportive, and stable environment, and communities are desirable places to live (See Coalition for Community Schools and Attendance Works).
PTAs can play an important role in increasing physical activity and improving nutrition by engaging families, teachers, administrators and students in programs and activities that encourage the school community to be active and eat healthier foods; empowering families to partner with schools to advocate for and support the implementation of healthy changes around nutrition and physical activity; educating families about the importance of good nutrition and physical activity; and providing families with tools to create an environment at home that supports the positive changes happening at school.
To customize and implement local school wellness policies
The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 requires school districts that participate in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast program to develop local school wellness policies (LWPs) that address student nutrition and physical activity. The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expanded the scope of the program, requiring schools to (1) permit parents to participate in the development of LWPs, and (2) update and inform parents about the policies’ content and implementation.
School policies ensure that good work and programs are not lost in the often constant turnover of site principals, district administrators and elected officials. Nothing is more demoralizing for staff, families, students and community members to come together, create meaningful programs, projects and/or change and then have it disappear with a leadership change. Written policies can protect that work.
Parents often are unaware of their right to be involved with their school’s wellness committees and to have a say in practices and policies related to school nutrition and physical activity. Engaging parents in local wellness policy (LWP) development and implementation and measuring those policies’ effectiveness are important strategies to ensure strong LWPs are implemented in schools. Strong family-school partnerships, where parents are engaged and invested in their children’s success, are not beneficial solely for academic and behavior reasons; they translate into strong LWPs that are successfully implemented in schools, thus improving the overall environment and improving student health and welfare in both the short-term and long-term (See 5 Tips for Writing Meaningful Policy and Procedures for Schools and School Wellness Policies).
To address the problem of hunger among families in the school community
Nearly 49 million Americans—including 1 in 5 children—live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. Hunger prevents kids from reaching their full potential. Children who don’t have enough to eat are likely to get sick more often, do not perform as well in school, and are less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. Federal nutrition programs play a critical role in helping children build healthy minds and bodies. Unfortunately, statistics show that these resources are not reaching all of the children who need them. PTAs and schools can work together to develop school policies and procedures that ensure that every student has access to a healthy meals, every day. PTAs also can educate families about the importance of eating breakfast every day, the impact of hunger on student performance, and how to buy and cook nutritious, low-cost meals.
To prevent injury at home and at school
Child safety is of paramount concern for all parents. According to National PTA partner Safe Kids Worldwide, unintentional injury is the leading killer of children between the ages of 1 and 14. Many injuries and deaths can be prevented by teaching parents and children simple ways to avoid the most common risks. Evidence has shown that family education and school health programs can have a positive effect on children’s risk behaviors and injury rates. PTAs can develop and host events that bring community resources, schools and families together to learn about the leading childhood injury risks; discuss how injuries can be prevented; and identify areas, equipment and behaviors within the school and home environments that could be safer for children (See Parents for Healthy Schools).
To promote Internet safety
Growing up in the digital age provides unlimited opportunities for students to connect, learn and share information. While this has many benefits, families can feel overwhelmed as they navigate the new challenges associated with raising technologically savvy kids. Having an open dialogue with students about making smart, safe and balanced online decisions helps students successfully learn and grow online. It is important that students feel prepared to make responsible decisions independently since online access is rarely restricted to certain times or places; direct supervision is not always possible.
An important component of digital wellbeing and education is parent involvement. The PTA has an important role to play. PTAs can partner with schools to offer programs for families wanting to know more about digital safety, security, literacy, access and citizenship. Providing resources to parents can help them maintain open communication with adolescents about the ever-evolving digital world. PTAs can also work with schools to develop and evaluate an acceptable use policy and disseminate it to families.
To prevent all forms of bullying and encourage healthy peer relationships
Bullying is a reality for many of America’s school children and one of the most pressing issues parents and educators face today. More than 3 million students are victims of bullying each year, and almost 4 million participate in it. Research shows that bullying behaviors have a long-term traumatic impact on the overall well-being of all children involved.
School climate refers to the overall quality and character of school life, and research shows that more positive school climates often have less incidents of bullying between students. One of the most effective strategies to reduce bullying in schools is to focus on a school-wide approach of building a culture of respect and tolerance. PTAs can be an instrumental force in creating positive school climates by engaging all members in the school community to promote healthier social interactions. PTAs also can convene these stakeholders in a conversation about solutions and can mentor student leaders in strategies that help to create a respectful culture. Finally, PTAs can help parents develop the skills they need to collaborate with the school to solve problems when challenges around bullying arise—whether their child is the target of bullying, a bystander or the one causing harm.
To support students’ emotional and mental well-being
Mental and emotional well-being is essential to overall health. Anxiety, stress, depression and impulse control disorders are associated with a higher probability of risky behaviors, domestic violence, chronic and acute conditions and premature death. Early childhood experiences have lasting, measurable consequences later in life; therefore, fostering emotional well-being from the earliest stages of life helps build a foundation for overall health and well-being. Schools and PTAs can work together to provide a safe and supportive educational environment for students that fosters academic success and helps them realize their full potential. PTAs also can play a role in bringing communities together and linking families with resources.
To advocate for safer routes to school (bicycling, walking, parking, busing)
The commute to and from school is an opportunity to increase students’ physical activity, reduce fuel costs and promote family engagement for younger students who require a parent escort. Unfortunately, while communities, schools and families promote the idea of walking and biking to school, the reality is that many students in urban, suburban and rural areas do not have access to safe walking and biking routes. Parents cite safety issues and traffic concerns as the number one reason for not allowing their children to walk or bike to school. To ensure that children arrive to and from school safely, PTAs can partner with schools to advocate for improved infrastructure—including sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, crossing signals, traffic signals and street lighting—and encourage transportation planners and engineers to design and improve roadways that provide safe routes to school.
To ensure emergency preparedness for school and personal safety
The threat of violence has grown in a number of schools across the country. School safety is a crucial component of effective learning, and children and school personnel deserve a safe environment in which to learn and work. Families, educators, community members and government must work together to ensure a safe learning environment for all students, where they can flourish and grow free from violence and other safety threats. PTAs can partner with schools to develop policies around safe and supportive schools. PTAs also can play a role in educating families about how to help prevent violence in their school, and how best to talk to their children about school violence.
To prevent student substance abuse
Students often are exposed to alcohol, drugs and tobacco at home, with friends and at school. Misuse of these substances at a young age can be harmful to a student’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, and it increases risky behaviors, automobile fatalities and the risk of substance misuse later in life. Parents are an important influence on their children’s behavior. PTAs can provide parents with education about how talk to their kids about drugs, alcohol and tobacco risks and avoidance, and can offer tools to help parents encourage their children to make good choices. PTAs also can partner with schools to promote safer communities and advocate for prevention of alcohol, drug and tobacco use and zero-tolerance policies at all school-based activities.
To promote teen driver safety
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America, with teens involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. Inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving (e.g., cell phone use, loud music, other teen passengers), drowsy driving, nighttime driving and drug use aggravate this problem. PTAs can help educate parents about how to talk to their kids about traffic safety before they start driving, set rules and consequences and model safe behavior. PTAs also can partner with schools to promote safer, distraction-free driving to teens.
To improve the environment for students with allergies, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy or other chronic conditions
Responding to the needs of students with chronic conditions in the school setting requires a comprehensive, coordinated and systematic approach. Students with chronic health conditions can function at their maximum potential if their needs are met. Their attendance, alertness and physical stamina will improve; they will have fewer symptoms and restrictions on their participation in physical activities and special events; and they will experience fewer medical emergencies. Schools and PTAs can work together to provide a safe and supportive educational environment for students with chronic illnesses and to ensure that they have the same educational opportunities as do students without chronic illnesses.