The rise in childhood obesity has focused attention on health disparities in schools with low-income minority students, and the potential role those schools could play in addressing this public health crisis. In May 2010, Washington DC passed a groundbreaking law, the Healthy Schools Act to strengthen the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act both of which aim at improving school food, increase nutrition education and physical activity and increase the development and use of school gardens.
However, school employees have not been trained to participate in resolving the myriad confounding variables that lead to health disparities in the schools. Building a healthy school workforce empowers teachers and the school staff to mediate the factors that are contributing to overweight and obesity, augment the health and physical education program and meet the requirements of the Healthy Schools Act.
Community Voices for Health (CVH): Teachers Take Action, a project of the School of Education, Teaching and Health has implemented a teacher professional development program that increases teachers’ self-efficacy to be a part of the solution. The program focuses on three areas that can have a great impact: 1) improving staff and teacher personal health and role-modeling capability; 2) increasing the understanding of the importance of nutrition and physical activity in a student’s academic performance, motivation and behavior; and 3) teaching how to integrate nutrition and exercise principles throughout core subjects and school-wide initiatives.
With a USDA Team Nutrition Training Grant, a collaboration between CVH: Teachers Take Action, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education of the District of Columbia, has enabled an expansion of the training program to 13 middle schools with a high-risk audience for health disparities. Based on the Social Ecological Model of Behavior Change this school-wide, holistic approach to nutrition education has empowered “campus wellness champions” to direct the school’s wellness priorities. Part of the oral presentation will highlight the characteristics of the 13 schools, the campus wellness champions, the professional development protocol, and the resulting initiatives taking place in the schools to reduce health disparities. The other part of the presentation will describe progress of the Healthy Schools Act.
Teachers and staff work in very demanding environments. CVH postulates that teachers need support in attending to their own health and don’t fully understand the importance of nutrition and physical activity to the academic and social success of their students. Having taught a graduate course for teachers the summer of 2010, we knew that teachers were interested in health and would make powerful health advocates. Teachers Take Action provides training through an intensive one week course and regular one-on-one coaching by AU health education staff.