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Sharing the PTA Perspective

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena

How Parent Engagement Can Improve the Health of School Communities

WLB08d013Parent and family engagement is, and will remain, an integral part of children’s success in school, academically, socially and behaviorally. Thriving Schools hopes to harness that engagement and connection between children and parents to not only promote healthier lifestyles throughout the school day, but also ensure that schools are supporting healthy habits at home.

Recently, we were fortunate enough to sit down and speak with two of our partners at the National PTA to hear their thoughts and expertise on this topic. The conversation focused on the clear and obvious tie between health and learning, and what role parents can play in strengthening that connection.

“Healthy lifestyles outside the classroom create success in the classroom,” said Heather Parker, senior manager, health and safety, National PTA. “It is important to support students’ success, advocate for every child and make sure that their basic health needs are being met.”

Healthy habits at home supports health in schools

In order to influence schools to see the importance of health, it’s crucial to engage parents and families to join the conversation about health and ultimately help to fight the obesity epidemic. How parents engage and communicate with their children at home has a significant impact on how children act and perform at school. The hope is that children who adopt healthy habits at home will carry those habits into schools and help influence their school communities.  Similarly, when children are accustomed to exercising and eating healthy in school, they are likely to maintain the healthy habits at home and throughout the rest of the day.

Simple questions can start important discussions about health and physical activity with school-aged children. By asking their children what they did during recess or what was offered during lunchtime, families can encourage each other to adopt healthy habits at school and at home.

“We know that when families are engaged in what children are doing in schools, their children do much better. They have better educational outcomes overall.” said Sherri Wilson, senior manager, family and community engagement, National PTA.

PTAs as vehicles for implementing healthy change

Aside from discussing health with their children, parents can be part of the solution to making school communities healthier. PTAs provide an organized way for parents to get involved with school policies, without feeling overwhelmed by tackling the challenge alone. Often times, teachers and school staff do not have the resources or bandwidth to implement change within schools, and value the help and time of parents.

“A PTA parent could volunteer one day per quarter to help orchestrate breakfast in the classroom, or parents can play a role in being recess proctors to help ease the burden of teachers and encourage more time for physical activity throughout the school day,” Parker said. “Parent volunteers really can make a difference, and help implement healthy changes within schools.”

Fire Up Your Feet engages parents and schools together

Another key component and valuable resource to promoting school health is the Fire Up Your Feet program, a core program of Safe Routes to School National Partnership that was created in partnership with Kaiser Permanente.

“Fire Up Your Feet provides a healthy fundraising solution for PTAs who have been looking for one,” Parker said of the program.

Often times, parents and families are told what not to do in order to keep their kids healthy. Fire Up Your Feet provides an opportunity to tell people what they can and should do. It is an intuitive and simple solution, and something that families can begin to do together, or track and record something that they are already doing. Many kids may already walk to school, and many schools have existing walk-a-thons for fundraising. The program provides a tool for school communities to see the accomplishments of the physical activity they are already doing. Fire Up Your Feet also acts as a great fundraising alternative rather than selling candy bars or hosting bake sales with unhealthy options.

Not only does tracking walking progress benefit school communities, but it can serve as a healthy and productive activity for families to do together. A time when families can talk, engage, and connect while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

While each PTA is unique in the priorities they have for their own school communities, National PTA and their partners remain committed to advocating for every child and for overall health in schools. With the help of parent volunteers and the dedication of PTAs across the country, we will be able to fight the obesity epidemic and ensure that school communities help make the healthy choice the easy choice for children.

Visit the National PTA website to learn more about their work.

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