How Schools Can Support the Physical and Mental Health of Their Students
We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
It takes a village to raise a child, but many Americans feel they have lost this sense of community where they live. Schools can play a vital role in providing family support and nurturing student health and physical and mental development.
However, doing so requires the entire staff to accept that they’re there to support the whole student, not merely impart subject matter knowledge. Here are eight ways schools can demonstrate that they care and support the physical and mental health of their students. –
1. Bring Back PE
Young bodies need movement to develop. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children between the ages of 5 and 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. However, your child might struggle to meet this requirement, especially if they don’t play sports that up their movement quotient.
Sadly, many schools have slashed physical education requirements to focus on the three Rs for standardized test purposes. However, their strategy could backfire.
A lack of physical activity contributes to misbehavior and struggles to pay attention in the classroom. Forcing students to sit for extended periods won’t improve test scores if they’re sitting there wishing to be anywhere else instead of engaged with their lessons. Getting students up and moving decreases behavior issues that can interrupt the educational process for the whole class.
2. Include Comprehensive Sex Education
Comprehensive sex education works. Research indicates that access to contraception and preventing unwanted pregnancy and disease does not increase sexual behaviors among teenagers. Indeed, students enrolled in such programs had a lower risk of teen pregnancy than those exposed to abstinence-only education or none at all.
Presenting the facts about human biology is essential to letting students make informed choices as adolescents and adults. If they don’t know what behaviors can result in pregnancy or disease, they can’t take measures against them. Furthermore, six states have passed laws mandating teaching about consent since the start of the #MeToo movement. Such programs could deter sexual assault and the resulting adverse physical and mental health effects.
3. Upgrade Their Cafeteria Menu
The typical American diet is a health nightmare. Many cafeterias sell processed foods that offer empty calories without much else. Sugar and white flour cause no end of trouble, as diabetes rates continue to soar. These substances absorb quickly, causing a rapid blood glucose spike, followed by a crash that increases cravings. Worse, white flour contains a byproduct called alloxan used to destroy the pancreas — the insulin-producing organ — in laboratory rats.
Schools can serve more fresh fruits and vegetables and foods close to their natural forms. They can eliminate the sale of problematic substances like soda and sugary juice drinks. They can offer a wider array of healthy snacks, such as nuts and oatmeal, to keep students feeling full and nourished longer than chips or pretzels.
4. Add Mental Health Support Staff Members
The pandemic caused a mental health crisis for many youths. They found themselves often cut off from support systems like outside therapeutic groups.
Schools can step in by adding more mental health support staff members. For instance, therapeutic support specialists provide hands-on help in the classroom and work with homeschooled students using technology.
5. Encourage Healthy Social Activities
Another problem the pandemic caused was restricting access to healthy social activities. Many seniors missed their prom in 2020, and some districts are slow to re-engage in sports and clubs while the COVID threat remains.
Schools can encourage social activities like clubs, providing students a necessary mental health outlet. Supervised meetups allow staff to enforce social distancing and mask requirements to keep students as safe as possible while providing them with needed peer interaction.
6. Provide Access to Community Resources
Many students go without because their parents struggle and may not know about community resources that can help. Teachers and administrators can help by providing this information in their student handbooks and class syllabi.
For example, dialing 211 will connect you with community resources to help with anything from paying bills to finding housing. The United States currently has over a million students dealing with homelessness — please don’t overlook the impact sharing information can have.
7. Address Student Drug and Alcohol Use
Some adolescents cope with mental health symptoms by turning to alcohol or drugs. Others mistakenly experiment once on a whim and end up getting hooked after their substance of choice causes biochemical changes promoting addiction.
Schools should implement a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy. While they may need to include disciplinary measures, intervention programs should focus on treatment, not condemnation.
8. Implement Suicide Awareness Campaigns
Suicide remains a pressing problem among youth, and the pandemic exacerbated matters. Attempts soared among young people in 2020, with a 22% spike in emergency room visits for this age group. Over half of all teenage girls aged 12 to 17 attempted suicide in recent years.
Awareness campaigns can help. Teaching young people the signs to watch for can help them take action if they notice a friend struggling. Providing access to school and community mental health resources can help at-risk youth fight their way back from the edge.
How Schools Can Support the Mental and Physical Health of Their Students
Raising healthy children takes the entire community. Schools play a vital role in much more than education. They also provide necessary support for students, including their developmental needs. Schools can support the mental and physical health of their students by taking the above measures to extend needed programs to all enrolled.