Professional Development

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Advancing Student Wellness Through Out-of-School Time, School and Community Collaboration

What happens when a student eats fresh fruit in his or her school cafeteria—and then learns about the importance of consuming produce through nutrition education in their afterschool program?

Or when an afterschool program's physical activity integrates math equations learned in the classroom during the school day?

And what if a school-day teacher and an afterschool practitioner attend the same training focused on meeting the physical and social-emotional needs of kids?

These joint efforts help promote a wellness continuum that can help address student health needs all day long.

Out-of-school time (OST) programs—such as before school, afterschool, and summer programs—have an important role to play in ensuring kids have the opportunity to thrive in a healthy environment. When it comes to providing access to healthy foods and quality physical activity, collaboration that places the student in the center is key.

For OST programs that are looking to focus on student health and implementing the National AfterSchool Association's Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards, an excellent place to start is with the local school. Understanding what healthy practices and policies the school has in place can help guide an OST program in developing its own health strategies. Working to create this continuity between the school day and afterschool program will support a more consistent and seamless experience for the student. Students can benefit from a full day experience guided by similar practices of healthy eating and physical activity.

To better understand school health practices in the community, OST programs might consider a few actions:

Review your school's local wellness policies.
All schools participating in the school nutrition program—school lunch—are required to have local wellness policies that address nutrition and physical activity. School districts must make these policies publicly available; most districts post them on their websites. Understanding these policies will provide a starting point for infusing health and wellness in the OST program. An example of what local wellness policies look like can be found in the Alliance's Model Wellness Policy. Consider exploring what your state's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan includes, as the goals may also include health and wellness. Use the resources found at Your Voice can be Part of the ESSA Conversation.

Join your school's wellness committee.
A school wellness committee can often play an advisory role for school and district staff as they promote a healthier school and community. Taking a seat at the school's wellness committee will help ensure your OST program has a voice.

Meet with school administration.
Start a conversation to help promote collaboration by meeting with the school's principal and/or administrative staff. Be prepared by sharing the health needs and concerns of students in the school and OST program, and share ideas on how the OST program can help advance school health initiatives. Leverage your new knowledge of local wellness policies and activities the school wellness committee is working on to help build a relationship with school leadership.

Meet with your principal and make the case for your OST program TODAY! Start the conversation with the Joint Strategy to Advance School Wellness document. Highlight the alignment between your OST program's physical activity, healthy eating and social-emotional goals with your school's local wellness policies. Describe how your program offerings bolster the wellness strategies implemented throughout the school day. Join the local wellness committee and/or the school improvement plan team. Building a strong, sustainable relationship between the school and OST time program ensures maximum impact to the health and wellness of students, staff and families.

Contributed by Alliance for a Healthier Generation staff: Ava DeBovis, National Network Manager; Michelle Owens, National Advisor; and Jonathan Wallace, Associate Director, Healthy Schools & Communities Program.