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Articles: Health & Wellness

After years of torment from bullies, 15-year-old Bart Palosz of Greenwich, Conn., took his own life on the first day of school in September. His death has led many to question the effectiveness of district bullying policies, and whether or not school leaders are responsible for identifying students who may harm themselves.

School lunches are at the front lines of the country’s childhood obesity and nutrition crisis. First Lady Michelle Obama, star chef Jamie Oliver and the “Renegade Lunch Lady” activist Ann Cooper have helped draw the public interest to the problems in school cafeterias.

Since 2009, I have worked with The Culinary Institute of America’s Menu for Healthy Kids initiative. We have provided school districts in New York’s Hudson Valley with tools to improve the food served to students.

Students who are physically active during school get better grades, even as nearly half the nation’s administrators have cut time from PE classes and recess in the last decade to focus more on math and reading, a new report found.

Some 44 percent of administrators have made the cuts since the passage of NCLB in 2001, putting students further at risk for obesity, says “Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School,” a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Students at the Harlem Children’s Zone and Promise Academy Charter School grow tomatoes, squash, eggplants and other vegetables in a rooftop garden.

Nestled between high-rise buildings in New York City, a lush, green garden full of colorful fruits and vegetables grows on the rooftop of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Promise Academy Charter School. What was just a few small boxes of dirt five years ago has grown into a 1,000-square-foot garden with 30 types of plants, including tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, and berries.

Updated July 1, 2013:

“Do a triangle pose,” a teacher says to her third-grade students during one of their bi-weekly yoga classes. “Good. Now a gorilla pose. Now you’re a mountain.”

This is yoga at Encinitas USD’s nine K6 schools. The poses’ names have been changed to be less religious. They are part of a complete physical education program designed to help students stay calm, focused and physically active throughout their day, says Encinitas USD Superintendent Timothy Baird.

After the Newtown tragedy last December, an outpouring of gifts from around the world inspired Sandy Hook Elementary School first grade teacher Kaitlin Roig. She created a new social curriculum that teaches students about compassion, kindness, and caring for others—an antidote of sorts for the hatred and pain inflicted upon their school children, their families, and their community.

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.