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Articles: Health & Wellness

In December 2012, in the case Zeno v Pine Plains Cent School District, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that a New York district was liable under Title VI for student-on-student harassment, upholding a $1 million reduced jury verdict.

I have been a school social worker in the small Westmoreland Central School District in central New York for 26 years. And I have experienced what is now documented in research, that schools are seeing more children with mental health difficulties, such as fear and anxiety. These problems occur for various reasons, including family and tempermental issues, and often emerge at an early age.

Most children consume too much omega-6, which is found in soybean oil, and is an ingredient in many processed foods. But they don’t get enough omega-3, a fatty acid found in foods generally consumed less frequently, such as flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, grass-fed beef and soybeans (though not soybean oil). 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most children and adolescents in the United States eat too much sugar, fat, and salt, but not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Further, they consume about half their “empty calories” in the form of soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk (CDC, 2013).

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.

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