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Articles: Health & Wellness

At the recent annual conference of the International Bullying Prevention Association, I co-facilitated a session with a panel of students who are leaders in preventing bullying in their school. I asked the 600 professionals in the room how many also rely on student leadership to prevent bullying, and barely 30 raised their hands. The students’ insightful and passionate presentation on confronting these real-world problems became the “buzz” of the conference.

Controversy over so-called “fat letters” mailed from district offices to parents, informing them if they have an overweight, healthy weight or underweight child, is erupting across the nation.

Though professional athletes have access to top healthcare professionals and state of the art facilities, tightening budgets in U.S. school districts often leave high school sports participants without protective services or proper care after injury. To address this problem, the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, a group of more than 100 organizations committed to the safety of young athletes, released the first-ever “National Action Plan for Sports Safety,” a guide for districts to protect student athletes.

Art therapy involves creating art to help individuals of all ages cope with traumatic experiences and stress, according to the American Art Therapy Association, a national organization whose Connecticut members have been working to assist young people, their families, and the local communities to address the trauma resulting from the Sandy Hook shooting. Above, a drawing from a first grade Sandy Hook student who was at school the day of the shooting.

School psychologists are often the first professionals to reach students with mental illness, and part of their role is to help identify threats that can lead to events such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead, including school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who was one of the first responders. But as district budgets are cut and school psychologists retire, their difficult and crucial role working with troubled students may be endangered.

The tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo. in May 2011 killed more than 150 people, demolished thousands of homes and businesses, and damaged or destroyed 10 public schools. Though students were affected by the tragedy, many remain afraid to ask for the mental health services they may need.

Students nationwide are protesting the new nutritional guidelines for school lunches that went into effect this year thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. From parody videos to cafeteria strikes, students are speaking out against the smaller, healthier portions, which include almost twice as many fruits and vegetables as last year, and less saturated fat and sodium. They are hungry, they say, and the healthy options aren’t tasty, leading some to discard their fruits and veggies.

According to its 2011 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reports that anti-gay language amongst students is continuing to decline and, for the first time, bullying against others based on sexual orientation has begun to drop. GLSEN surveyed more than 8,500 students between the ages of 13 and 20 from more than 3,000 school districts in all 50 states. The reason for the safer environment? An increase in support from school leaders, bullying prevention programs and LGBT organizations.

District Health Solutions Pay OffThe national debate over health care reform rages on, but some school districts are taking matters into their own hands and looking to employer-driven health care solutions to drive down costs and improve coverage. So far, the results are encouraging.

School Bus Brings Summer Meals to Rural Students

One snafu with summer meal programs that offer free meals to children—particularly in rural districts—is that more often than not, the students who need the meals the most are the ones that do not have transportation to get to the feeding sites. The San Marcos (Texas) Independent School District, home to 8,800 students, over 6,000 of whom receive free and reduced-price lunches, found a solution by converting a district school bus into a homegrown meals on wheels program.

In late June, two elementary school sisters in Tacoma (Wash.) Public Schools came home from a field day sunburned so badly that their mother rushed them to the hospital. Aside from being fair skinned, one girl, Zoe, has albinism, making her particularly sensitive to the sun. Because it was raining that morning, Zoe’s mother hadn’t put sunscreen on her daughter. Tacoma school officials said that sunscreen is monitored by the FDA as an over-the-counter drug and isn’t allowed in schools without a doctor’s note. The only exception is California.

The new program provides a meal for 1,700 students enrolled in after-school activities.

In Dec. 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which provides federal funds for an after-school dinner program in schools where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools serves a population of 16,000 students, and 84 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

Sheriff’s deputies escort T.J. Lane to his court arraignment in Chardon, Ohio on June 8, 2012. Lane pleaded not guilty to six charges for an alleged shooting at Chardon High School in February that left three students dead and three wounded.

I have been involved in the aftermath of 13 school shootings. Throughout my years of professional experience, I have stayed abreast with the latest research and literature. My hope is to help dispel the common assumptions associated with school shootings. After learning of my experiences, people often say to me, “School shootings today are increasing, and they are happening everywhere.” Although this assumption has been reinforced by the media, school shootings are actually very rare, and schools remain among the safest places for children.

Data from the 2007 WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for 13- to 18-year-olds in the United States, with motor vehicle accidents accounting for approximately 70 percent of deaths. In total, 3,733 teens died in the year 2007 from motor-vehicle-related accidents.

Superintendent Myrrha Satow, center, meets with EdVantages management staff in Columbus, Ohio, in their weekly team meeting to discuss academic progress of special ed students. From left to right: Wendy Samir, special ed director, Satow, Amber Cummings, school psychologist.

For an hour and 15 minutes every day, 2,000 students at EdVantages charter schools in Ohio and 1.000 students in Performance Academies charter schools in Ohio and Florida expend physical energy. More specifically, they rotate playing tennis, playing soccer and practicing martial arts a week at a time. For the rest of the six hours and 45 minutes in their school day, they study math, reading, social studies and science.