School counseling, psychological, and social services include a wide variety of programs that address the mental health needs of students. School counselors, psychologists, and social workers work in concert with other school and community professionals to provide effective assistance for students and their families. Effective programs focus on prevention, address problems, facilitate positive learning and healthy behavior, and enhance healthy student development.
Our next component area is comprehensive school health education. By comprehensive, we mean curriculum (the written program approved by the school district, or what the teachers teach) and instruction (how the teachers teach) designed to address all aspects of health, including the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions. Comprehensive school health education is designed to increase students’ knowledge and their ability to use that knowledge to make healthy decisions. It involves curricula that is age-appropriate for the student.
As previously noted, family and community involvement is critical to the success of any coordinated school health program. Family and community involvement means partnerships among schools, families, community groups, and individuals that marshal resources and expertise to help children develop healthy behaviors and to promote healthy families.
Students who receive comprehensive school health education increase their health knowledge and improve their health-related skills and behaviors. Curricula that have research that indicates its effectiveness have been proven to assist students in establishing and maintaining healthy behaviors.
Parental involvement plays a critical role in education. As most principals and teachers know, when supportive parents are positively involved in their children’s education, the children are more likely to get better grades, score better on standardized tests, show up for school regularly and on time, and get their homework done. When teachers and parents work in partnership, they can provide the support required and accountability necessary for student success.
A study of third and fourth grade students that included a control group of students who did not receive comprehensive school health education and an experimental group that did, showed that students who received comprehensive school health education scored higher than the control group on assessments in reading and math.
Student participation in community activities can support classroom learning in significant ways. In two separate studies, community activities were shown to impact academic achievement, reduce school suspension rates, and improve school-related behaviors. The increased interest in co-curricular, extracurricular, and after-school programs that support community initiatives recognizes the positive impact community programs have on students. Coordinated school health programs can provide the necessary linkages to ensure that these programs support, rather than compete with, the school’s objectives for student achievement.
Parents nationwide want comprehensive school health education. In a nationally representative survey funded by the U.S. Department of Education, 73% of adults felt that health education in schools was “definitely necessary.” This level of support mirrors other polls and surveys conducted with parents, administrators, and students regarding the importance of health education.
The other curricular area of a coordinated school health program is physical education. Physical education involves promoting lifelong physical activity through a planned, sequential, K through 12 curriculum. Physical education focuses on the cumulative development of fitness and motor skills as well as on enhancing mental, social, and emotional abilities through cooperative and team building activities.
Finally, elementary students in a two-year social decision-making and problem-solving program showed healthier behavior and less self-destructive behavior at a four- to six-year interval. The investment of comprehensive school health education can pay real benefits during the academic career of children and youth.
A number of studies of adults indicate the clear health and mental health benefits of physical activity. Physical education involves curriculum and instruction that promotes lifelong physical activity, improves the physical and mental health of students as well. Physical education contributes to the development of skills and behaviors that help young people start an adult life that incorporates regular physical activity.
Traditionally, when most people think of school health services they think of the school nurse, though today’s school health services program may include a variety of additional primary care services that are available within the school or in a closely-linked facility. Such services are designed to be preventive in nature and include education, first aid, screening, medication administration, emergency care, and appropriate management of all health conditions of students. According to Small, et. al., school health services is a “coordinated system that ensures a continuum of care from school to home to community healthcare provider and back.”
The health and mental health benefits of regular physical activity from physical education are positively associated with enhanced academic performance. Specifically, researchers report that there is enough evidence that relates the effects of physical activity on academic ratings to suggest this association deserves more attention. Additionally, teachers who participated in this study reported improvement in students’ classroom behavior.
Targeting students in high-risk situations can be an effective strategy to prevent drop-outs. In one social services intervention, students improved their grade point average, reported feeling a closer bond to their school, and indicated improved self-esteem.
Early intervention can be critical to helping kids get a good start in school. Numerous studies have indicated the important role of early intervention programs such as Head Start in facilitating later academic achievement. Early childhood interventions, including health services, can improve later school performance, and they may also improve high school completion rates and lower the incidence of juvenile crime.
Another study of school breakfast programs demonstrated improvements in absenteeism and tardiness among low-income elementary school children. School breakfast programs can ensure that young people get the nutritious meals they need to succeed in the classroom.
Participation in physical education may mean less time for other academic subjects due to strained school schedules. Studies indicate that schools that offered physical education did not experience a harmful effect on standardized test scores, even though less time was available for other academic subjects. Thus, the benefits of physical education programs may be secured without cost to academic achievement.
The social and emotional climate of the school is critical to students’ academic success. Students must feel support from administrators, teachers, and peers to achieve their full potential. Several studies have noted the importance of connections to parents and school as the two most important factors in healthy social development for children and youth. Students who develop a positive affiliation with school are also more likely to remain academically engaged and less likely to be involved in misconduct at school.
Although few in number, about 2% of schools have on-site health centers that provide a variety of primary health care services for children and youth according to the wishes of the community. Such programs often offer the only health care services that children receive, and many serve schools in areas with little access to quality health care. These programs can make a major impact on the students’ health as well as their ability to succeed. Schools with on-site health programs report increased classroom attendance, decreased drop-outs and suspensions, and higher graduation rates. While school-based health centers are not the norm, this study illustrates that regular access to health services can have a positive impact on student success.
In one study, a comprehensive intervention had a significant and positive impact on student achievement over time. This intervention resulted in enhanced student commitment and attachment to school, less social misbehavior, and improved academic achievement.
School nutrition services involves much more than school lunches. An effective program integrates an attractive meal program with nutrition education and a food environment that promotes healthy eating. School nutrition is focused on lifelong benefits. Ensuring that schools offer nutritious, appealing choices whenever and wherever food and beverages are available on campus is an important policy objective of many programs.
Finally, school-site health promotion for staff focuses on developing health knowledge and skills for the adult staff of the school. By practicing healthy behaviors at school, administrators, teachers, and other staff not only enhance their well-being but also become role models for the students in their care. This type of reinforcement is critical to sustaining healthy behaviors for both adults and students.
In this particular intervention, trained social workers developed individual treatment plans according to the familial and educational needs of the students. Teachers reported better understanding of the particular needs of that family and were better able to communicate with them. Families had a greater appreciation for the school's job, and learned about their role at home in promoting educational goals.
Hunger impacts students’ academic achievement and health in profound ways. In national health data, children aged 6 to 11 who reported not having enough food to eat (referred to in this report as “food insufficient”) were more likely to have significantly lower arithmetic scores, were more likely to have repeated a grade, were more likely to have seen a psychologist, and were more likely to have had difficulty getting along with other children.
As mentioned earlier, a healthy school environment involves two arenas: positive emotional and social climate and safe and functional school facility, including the school building and grounds, are both important for student success.
Many school-site health promotion programs focus on promoting physical activity for staff. The health benefits of regular physical activity are well documented and include stress reduction, maintenance of healthy weight, and an improved sense of well-being. The school district benefits by having healthier employees who use fewer sick days and generate less health insurance cost due to illness.
School nutrition programs have a tremendous impact on students’ behavior and their academic achievement. School breakfast programs often provide a healthy start for the day that may not otherwise be available. One study found that students who participated in school breakfast programs demonstrated increased learning and academic achievement outcomes, greater attention to academic tasks, reduced visits to the school nurse, and fewer behavioral problems.
One study noted the link between school facilities and academic performance. The physical environment of the school can be either a support or a hurdle to student achievement. As with adults in their workplaces, students perform better in facilities that are attractive, functional, safe, and secure.