The Total Child

Grief Over the Holidays: Educators Can Help Students Cope

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

The following is a post from the National Center for School Crisis & Bereavement. Learn more about ways to offer support to grieving students at the Coalition to Support Grieving Students website. AASA is part of the Coalition. 

All across the nation, Thanksgiving and the December holidays are a special time for families, schools and communities. Everywhere we look, we see signs of celebration. In schools, there may be pageants, food drives, decorations and parties. In stores, we hear familiar music. On the streets, people wish each other happy holidays and talk about getting together with extended family and close friends.

During these times, most of us also think about people we miss, including loved ones who have died. These memories can be especially acute for children and teens who have lost a loved one. They may experience periods of deep sadness, a renewal of their grief, or sudden and unexpected reactions of anger, despair or fear.

These responses may happen the first or second year after a death, or many years later. Educators spend a lot of time with students and are uniquely poised to observe grief responses over time. They can take steps to anticipate challenges. The support and understanding they offer grieving students over the holidays can be especially helpful.

Grief Triggers Can Be Strong

Grief triggers are sudden reminders of the person who died that cause powerful emotional responses. These can include smells or sounds, hearing a song, participating in a family tradition, or even imagining a lost opportunity such as a holiday dinner with the loved one.

 Our holidays are filled with these kinds of reminders, so grief triggers can be frequent and quite strong during these times.

Emotions Can Be Powerful

Grieving children may feel particularly vulnerable when they have grief responses to holiday events. They may isolate themselves from peers or celebrations in an effort to avoid triggers. They may be frustrated or disappointed that they can’t manage these responses. It’s common for children to feel, “I should be past this and able to stay in control now.”

Goals for Educators

By reaching out to grieving students, educators have an opportunity to promote several important goals, including:

  1.  Decreasing students’ sense of isolation. It’s common for grieving children to feel that others do not understand their experience.
  2.  Offering students an opportunity to talk. Students will be thinking about their loved one. They will be reflecting on memories, experiences and feelings.
  3.  Encouraging students to talk with others. In most cases, it is helpful for students to talk honestly with peers and family about their thoughts, feelings and memories.

Steps to Take

  •  Ask open-ended questions. Listen more than talk. For example, ask, “How are the holidays going for you? I wonder what thoughts you’ve been having about your dad lately.”
  •  Accept expressions of emotion. Students may express sadness, pain, frustration, anger or other powerful emotions. Avoid minimizing students’ feelings or trying to put a “positive” spin on their expressions. For example, saying, “It’s important to focus on the good times you had with your dad,” is likely to communicate that you don’t want to hear a student talk about painful things.
  • Reach out to grieving students at school events. The absence of a loved one may be especially noticeable during the classroom party or holiday band concert. Make a point to touch base in some way. Let a student know you’re happy to see her here at the party, or are looking forward to hearing her play in the concert. 
  •  Introduce class activities in a way that acknowledges absences and offers alternatives. For example, if students are making cards for members of their family, invite them, if they wish, to also include cards for someone who is no longer living, or who does not live with the family.
  •  Lead class discussions about holiday stories and experiences with sensitivity. Poems, stories and discussions may present triggers for grieving students. Open up the possibility during discussions (“Sometimes people have sad reactions to the holidays because they miss people. Have any of you ever had an experience like this?”). Consider reaching out after class to see how a grieving student is doing, or learn what he or she thought of the discussion.

Children experience grief differently over time. What is true this year for the holidays may not be the same next year. This is why one of the most important things educators can do is ask questions and then listen, with presence and patience.

*Share this flyer, which includes this information in this post.


EQUITY SERIES: SEL, Whole Child Education and Student Readiness: How do They Connect?

(Coordinated School Health, Equity Series) Permanent link

Guest Post by Karen Pittman, Co-Founder, President and CEO, The Forum for Youth Investment

Imagine this scenario. A smiling five-year-old is brought into a bare room with a table. On the table is a plate with a single marshmallow. The researcher who brought them in says she will back in 15 minutes, and gives them a choice: they can eat the one marshmallow while she’s gone or wait until she returns and have two. This simple test turned out to be an effective measure of willpower or self-control and a strong predictor of future success. Children who displayed early ability to defer gratification, on average, had higher SAT scores, lower body mass index and a host of other desirable outcomes.i


For decades, the results of the “Marshmallow Test” have been used to suggest that traits like self-control, emotion management and grit matter. Rightly or wrongly, however, the study has also been interpreted to suggest that these are relatively immutable traits that are baked into children early. 

We now have ample evidence that these skills are malleable. Brain research confirms that these skills continue to develop well into adolescent years and even beyond.ii Program evaluations show an increase in skill growth in response to explicit instruction.iii Combined, these findings suggest the need for more intentional focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) as a part of schools’ commitment to educating the whole child.iv  

The good news is that educators are responding to this challenge. The bad news is that efforts to teach SEL can sometimes reinforce counterproductive stereotypes about students and their families.

The statement that social and emotional skills can be taught is technically correct. But the suggestion that schools should teach these skills too often ends with the selection of a curriculum that emphasizes teaching SEL content. This expedient decision can pull educators away from having broader discussions about creating learning contexts that encourage students to demonstrate and build on the skills they have.

A new marshmallow study makes this point unequivocally. Researchers at the University of Rochester once again put young kids into a room with a marshmallow. But this time, the children were randomly assigned to have a pre-encounter with a member of the research team. Some had an unreliable experience: The adult promised fun art supplies but never came back. Others had a positive experience: The adult delivered the art supplies as promised. The impact of this seemingly insignificant encounter was amazing.v  

In the original study, the average time young children waited before eating the marshmallow was about 6 minutes. In this study, the average time for the group that had the reliable pre-experience was 12 minutes. The average time for the group with the unreliable pre-experience was only 3 minutes! Dramatic findings like these are almost unheard of in behavioral studies.

This simple test has enormous implications. It reminds us that even at a young age, a child’s behavior is a product of what they can generally do and what they believe makes sense to do in that situation or environment. The difference between the two groups is clearly not related to their general ability to delay gratification—it is related to their assessment of the specific behavioral cues provided by the adults around them.

A new branch of research called the science of learning reinforces the new marshmallow test findings. This research supports a simple premise: In order for children and youth to learn specific content (academic or otherwise), we must first ensure that we have created learning environments in which they feel socially accepted, emotionally safe and generally If these conditions aren’t met, young people are far less likely to engage in the learning activities, to show and use the skills and knowledge they already know, and to take the risk of stretching themselves into new areas of learning and leadership.vii  

 Consider the differences between these two statements:

  • Educators should prioritize social and emotional learning.
  •  Educators should recognize that learning is social and emotional.

 The first statement suggests that educators should take on responsibility for yet another set of skills that they and their students will be held accountable for. This means either that time has to be carved out of the school day to support explicit instruction, or that teachers have to squeeze SEL instruction into what are already demanding and prescriptive curricula.

The second statement suggests that educators need to understand the social and emotional profiles that their students bring into school and do as much as they can to anticipate their reactions to the learning demands, structures and supports being offered them in order to co-create contexts for learning that will differ school to school, class to class, and perhaps student to student.

The second statement, on its surface, seems more challenging. But it is also more empowering. It requires that school administrators, families, and communities acknowledge and support the powerful role that teachers can play not only as deliverers of academic content, but as shapers of the social and emotional contexts in which academic, social and emotional learning happens.

The push to formally integrate social and emotional skills development into the school day and the school curricula is playing out in at least three distinct (but overlapping) efforts.

  • Efforts to improve student behavior in order to address school discipline and school climate issues.
  •  Efforts to increase student engagement in learning through more active, personalized approaches to teaching subject areas such as science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) that respond to talent pipeline gaps.
  •  Efforts to prepare students for their future roles as citizens, community leaders and change makers.

All of these efforts involve deliberate work to integrate opportunities to name, use and build social and emotional skills into the learning content. Not all of these, however, are called social and emotional learning.  

 Project-based learning, deeper learning, service learning, STEM, career and technical education are examples of teaching/learning approaches and curricula that require students to practice the full range of social and emotional skills in the service of mastering academic content. These approaches focus more explicitly on skills like teamwork, problem-solving, critical-thinking, and initiative. These curricula or approaches are frequently described by their content focus or broader academic learning approaches.viii

These approaches, unfortunately, may not be equally available to all students. Teachers in gifted and talented programs and magnet schools, for example, are more likely to be trained and incorporate opportunities for students to demonstrate and develop all of these skills in their classrooms. A growing number of schools and school networks designed to provide these types of learning environments to low-income and minority students exist, but they are not the norm.ix  

Explicitly branded social and emotional programs (such as PBIS – Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports), in contrast, may focus on these “higher order” skills, but typically have emotion management and empathy as their starting points, moving on to include skills like “grit".x Many schools and districts have begun to implement curricula by starting with an explicit focus on improving student behavior. They have made a strategic decision to roll out these initiatives first in their weakest schools.

This targeted approach is justifiable. It can be an important first step towards reversing the disturbing trends in school discipline and suspension rates and in reducing disparities associated with race, ethnicity, income and gender. This first step becomes dangerous and divisive when it is the only step taken, or, more specifically, the only step taken for a subset of schools serving students and families whose lived experiences give them reasons not to trust schools and educators and give educators reasons not to have high expectations for students.xi  

It is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century to have the social, emotional and academic competency expectations for black, brown and poor students be defined as having behavior good enough to allow them to stay in their seats so that they can complete needed credits. Readiness for college, work and life requires proficiency if not mastery of the social, emotional and academic competencies that have become the vocabulary of the workforce.

 Learning is social and emotional.

 Honoring this premise means that schools as well as any other systems in which students spend their time have to ensure that all students have access to environments that they find safe, supportive, stimulating and empowering. This means creating safe, supportive, stimulating and empowering opportunities for the adults who work with students to reflect on their own skills, assess the adequacy and have the time and resources needed to create appropriate learning contexts– from core classes to communal spaces. It also means providing opportunities for teachers, students and families to voice and influence systemic changes in the conditions beyond their control that are affecting the social and emotional health of their school communities.xii  

When faced with the opportunity to truly improve young people’s readiness for college, work and life, how can we not respond with all we have?


i Mischel, Walter; Ebbesen, Ebbe B.; Raskoff Zeiss, Antonette (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 21 (2): 204–218.
iiThe Adolescent Brain, Executive Summary, by Jim Casey Opportunities Initiative, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2017 from
Siegel, Dan. Brainstorm: The Teenage Brain from the Inside Out (2014). Penguin Group.
iiiDurlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing
students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1): 405–432.
ivSocial, Emotional and Academic Development Fast Facts. (n.d.). The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from
vCasey, B. J.; Somerville, Leah H.; Gotlib, Ian H.; Ayduk, Ozlem; Franklin, Nicholas T.; Askren, Mary K.; Jonides, John; Berman, Mark G.; Wilson, Nicole L.; Teslovich, Theresa; Glover, Gary; Zayas, Vivian; Mischel, Walter; Shoda, Yuichi (August 29, 2011). "From the Cover: Behavioral and neural correlates of delay of gratification 40 years later". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (36): 14998–15003.
Shorter summary: The Marshmallow Study Revisited. (2012). University of Rochester. Retrieved July 17, 2017 from
viBerg, Juliette, et al. Science of Learning and Development (2016). (Pre-pub copy) The Opportunity Institute, The Learning Policy Institute, Education Counsel.
viiDurlak, J.A. et al. (2011) “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.” Child Development, 82(1) pp.405-432.
Smith, Charles et al. (2016) Preparing Youth to Thrive: Methodology and Findings from the Social and Emotional Learning Challenge. The Forum for Youth Investment, Washington D.C.
viiiEmdin, Christopher. “5 New Approaches to Teaching and Learning: The Next Frontier.” The Huffington Post. January 31, 2014.
Retrieved July 17, 2017 from
ixExamples include Big Picture Learning network schools (, EL Education schools (, XQ Super Schools (, and KIPP Public Charter schools (
xJones, S. et al. Navigating SEL from the Inside Out. (March 2017). Published on line. Harvard School of Education with funding from the Wallace Foundation. Retrieved July 17, 2017 from
xiHarold, Benjamin. “Is ‘Grit’ Racist?” Education Week. January 24, 2015.
xiiBridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, A. (2013). The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning can Empower Children and Transform Schools. A report for CASEL. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises.

'13 Reasons Why' Discussion Resource Library for Educators and Parents

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link


The new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, based on 2007 the young adult novel of the same name, revolves around a 17 year old girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. She leaves behind audio recordings to 13 people- 12 students and one school counselor- who she perceives as playing a role in why she killed herself.

 Due to the realistic and graphic depictions of – among other topics-- bullying, rape and the protagonist’s suicide in the show, AASA compiled a resource library for parents and educators on how to talk to youth about the issues conveyed on the show.

 As the National Association of School Psychologists states , “ this is particularly important for adolescents who are isolated, struggling or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines,” and it is vital to reinforce the message that “suicide is not the solution to problems and help is available.”

The following are the resources we have compiled as of Friday April 28, 2017. We will update the resource library on an ongoing basis on the following page: 

Staff Contact

 Kayla Jackson, Project Director

 Resource Library

  •  National Association of School Psychologists. "'13 Reasons Why' Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators"
    •  This resource includes cautions related to the show, guidance for families and educators in recognizing the signs related to youth suicide, safe messaging when talking to students , and additional websites, fact sheets and books to reference on this topic.
  •  Child Mind Institute. "Why Talk to Kids About '13 Reasons Why.'" A blog post by Peter Faustino, PsyD, who is a school psychologist in the Bedford Central School District (NY) and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of School Psychologists.
  •  The Jed Foundation and SAVE. "13 Reasons Why: Talking Points for Viewing & Discussing the Netflix Series"
    •  Talking points , available in both English and Spanish, to assist parents, teachers and other educators in talking to youth about suicide as it relates to the situational drama that unfolds in '13 Reasons Why.' 

New School Wellness Resources for the New Year

(Coordinated School Health, Healthy Eating and Active Living , National Awareness) Permanent link

The following is a guest post from Cheryl Jackson Lewis, Director, Nutrition, Education, Training, and Technical Assistance Division, Child Nutrition Programs, Food and Nutrition Service. 

 Toolkit Header

Have you set any goals for health and wellness in 2017? There are many ways superintendents can help schools create and cultivate a culture of academic success and wellness. District leaders across the country are championing Local School Wellness Policies, with an understanding that kids with healthier eating patterns and enough physical activity tend to have better grades; remember what was taught in class; behave better in class; and miss less school time. A Local School Wellness Policy is a written document that guides school district’s efforts to establish a school environment that promotes students’ health, well-being, and ability to learn. Superintendents play a critical role in helping children have healthy places to learn; and it’s easier than ever to bring everyone together on this important issue.

The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 added new provisions for the implementation, evaluation, and public involvement and reporting on the progress of Local School Wellness Policies. The Local School Wellness Policy final rule, published July 21, 2016, requires schools to engage parents, students, and community members in the annual development and assessment of local school wellness policies. It’s important for everyone to be a part of this process so the wellness policy is representative of the community and student’s needs. Local educational agencies must fully comply with the requirements of the final rule by June 30, 2017.

 School Wellness Champion
 Parents, school staff and administrators, and community members work together to develop the Local School Wellness Policy and put it into action.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Team Nutrition initiative provides a free Local Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit that superintendents, school wellness leaders, and schools can customize to communicate information about their Local School Wellness Policy to parents, principals, and other school staff. The kit includes:

  •  A letter to the wellness coordinator;
  • Sample letter to school principals;
  • Informational flyers, in English and Spanish;
  • Presentations for parents and school staff;
  • Sample newsletter article; and
  • Social media posts and graphics.

 The free Local Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit is available at:

Parents and school staff are not always aware of the Local School Wellness Policy and how it is being put into action. These tools can help and may be customized to reflect information specific to the school/school district’s policy. Additional Local Schools Wellness Policy resources on creating, implementing, and evaluating school wellness policies are available at Team Nutrition’s Web site:

January is a great time to reflect on how to further your efforts to engage parents, school staff and the community in school wellness efforts that support academic performance and health. Start with these ready resources and put a plan into action that works for your schools.  

 school garden

 Nutrition education and promotion are part of a Local School Wellness Policy.

Plan Ahead to Cope With Death and School Crisis

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness) Permanent link

A guest post by Dr. Tom Demaria from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, who develops a number of topical articles on bereavement for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. This blog is a follow-up to the post from November 28, 2016 " Death In a School Community: Four Goals for Supporting Students"

 A death in a school community has a deep impact. The loss will usually touch many individuals—students and staff alike, often the entire school.

It is vital that schools plan ahead to be prepared to deal with a range of possibilities involving the death of a student, teacher or other staff member. Plans should include:

  •  Procedures for informing staff, students and their parents/guardians.
  •  Guidelines about what information is appropriate to share, both generally and in specific situations (for instance, what should be said in cases of suicide, violent death, death after a long illness).
  •  Procedures for providing appropriate supportive services for students and staff. This often includes establishing partnerships with community professionals before an event occurs.
  •  Guidelines for both students and staff about interacting with media.
  •  Policies about funeral attendance, memorialization and commemoration.

 All schools should have a school crisis team in place that develops the response plan and reviews it regularly. While these events are inevitably challenging, having an effective plan in place allows schools to respond quickly in a thoughtful and productive manner. While it will not take away the pain people feel about the death, it will offer the greatest likelihood of offering the support students and staff most need.

 Find out more about the specific steps schools can take at the website for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students ( AASA  is a member of the Coalition.


Death In a School Community: Four Goals for Supporting Students

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness) Permanent link

A guest post by Dr. Tom Demaria from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, who develops a number of topical articles on bereavement for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. 

 A death in a school community has a deep impact. The loss will usually touch many individuals, students and staff alike, and often the entire school.

 It is vital that schools plan ahead to be prepared to deal with a range of possibilities involving the death of a student, teacher or other staff member. Information about the death is likely to spread quickly among students and staff. Responding rapidly and appropriately can limit rumors, misinformation and gossip.

 There are four important goals for supporting students at this time:

 1.      Normalize common experiences. Grief is personal and every individual will experience it differently. However, people who are grieving have similar types of needs. These include being acknowledged, understood and supported.

 Help students understand the range of feelings common after a death. Share ways people often express these feelings. Discuss how the feelings are likely to change in the days, weeks and months to come.

2.      Help students express and cope with their feelings. Invite questions and comments. Provide a safe, non-judgmental setting for these conversations. Classrooms and small groups offer students a chance to see how others are responding. They can share coping strategies and provide mutual support.

3.      Help students find additional resources. Many students will have a fairly straightforward reaction to the death and cope well with the grieving process. Others may have more complicated reactions. This might include students who were close to the deceased or the family, who had conflicts with the deceased, or who identify in some way with the person who died. It might also include students facing other challenges, such as a seriously ill family member, a recent death in the family, or pre-existing emotional challenges.

Talking with a counselor who has experience in bereavement can be helpful. This is especially important for any student experiencing a worsening of anxiety symptoms, depression or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

4.     Help younger students understand concepts about death. Younger students may have more trouble understanding certain concepts about death, such as that all living things eventually die, or the fact that the person who died is no longer feeling fear or pain.

All schools should have a school crisis team in place that develops a response plan in the event of a death. Having an effective plan in place allows schools to respond to these challenging events in a thoughtful and productive manner. While it will not take away the pain people feel about the death, it will offer the greatest likelihood of offering the support students most need.
Find out more about the specific steps schools can take at the website for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students ( Our organization is a member of the Coalition.

 The Coalition to Support Grieving Students was convened by the New York Life Foundation, a pioneering advocate for the cause of childhood bereavement, and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, which is led by pediatrician and childhood bereavement expert David J. Schonfeld, M.D. The Coalition has worked with Scholastic Inc., a long-standing supporter of teachers and kids, to create a groundbreaking, practitioner-oriented website designed to provide educators with the information, insights, and practical advice they need to better understand and meet the needs of the millions of grieving kids in America’s classrooms.

ESSA Advocacy and Your Role

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness) Permanent link

A guest post by Dr. John Skretta, Superintendent of Norris School District (NE). Dr. Skretta. Dr. Skretta participated in AASA’s School Administrator Training Cadre for Coordinated School Health. 

The new Every Student Succeeds Act federal accountability law replacing the lockstep No Child Left Behind expands the definition of quality education to be more than core and replaces the NCLB narrow emphasis on "core academic" areas. Broader measures of student success are now a part of the equation.This creates a tremendous opportunity for school districts to institute best practice programming in coordinated school health with the support of federal resources and accountability measures. At Norris and in many similar school districts that have robust school wellness councils, that has included the following:

  •  Instituting and sustaining school wellness councils as a part of the broader school improvement effort of our district.
  • Offering a second chance breakfast to increase the number of qualified school breakfast participants getting the nutrition needed to be ready to learn on a daily basis.
  • Incorporating classroom furnishings like movement stools and stability balls for classrooms, as well as pedal desks and standing desks to eliminate sedentary learning environments.
  • Offering integrated professional development for teachers, coaching them on classroom-based physical activity strategies.
  • Providing highly qualified mental health services to students in need of higher level interventions through the services of LMHPs and other credentialed professionals.

 However, the realization of ESSA’s expanded intent and potential for improving whole child education in your district will not happen without purposeful and intentional efforts from advocates. Get involved! How?

 Here are some of the key advocacy opportunities for teachers related to whole child initiatives and ESSA implementation:

  •  Your presence and participation in professional development opportunities that expand the scope of student success beyond core academic areas. Norris will be bringing the Edu-Ninja Jennifer Burdis (an Elementary teacher who has appeared on two seasons of American Ninja) to our district in January 2017 to coach our teachers on modeling positive nutrition practices and PA breaks for the classroom.
  • Your willingness to share the research on the connection between health and academic outcomes. It is important that all educators become aware of the extent to which nutrition and physical health can positively impact cognition.
  • Expand the scope of federal Title services in your school to ensure that systems of support for safe and healthy schools children become a part of the Title block grant program in your district.
  • Participate in state level discussions through your Department of Education and local districts regarding the development of state accountability plans for ESSA to ensure health and physical education are elevated as content areas.

 Undoubtedly, there are many challenges that lie ahead with the implementation of ESSA in our respective states. The President’s request and the congressional authorization of block grants that can help schools institute coordinated school health are currently woefully underfunded – the law authorizes $1.65 billion and currently block grant authorizations are in place for just $275 million.

 The time is now for all of us to get involved and get behind a broader notion of accountability and school performance to nurture the total child. ESSA provides this opportunity, now let's capitalize on it!

Youth and Superintendents Engage Through a Fuel Up to Play 60 & AASA Partnership

(Coordinated School Health, Healthy Eating and Active Living) Permanent link

 “Don’t underestimate your influence as student leaders to bring change in your schools.”  

 -Dr. Roberto Padilla, Superintendent of Newburgh Enlarged City School District (NY)

 Best Practices Fuel Up To Playlogo

  In Spring 2016, Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassadors, from throughout the country were selected to participate in a Youth Engagement Network, where they connected with Superintendents and AASA staff. They learned effective ways to influence decision-makers in school districts on making healthy changes happen in their schools, by communicating their own personal stories.

“My goal, our goal is to support and enhance the health and wellbeing of students and families by improving the school environment, policies, and educational opportunities, explains Student Ambassador Zhela, a 9th grader from Arizona.

 “If kids are taught these healthy ways and activities at a young age, then they are more likely to grow with this knowledge and keep up with the healthy ways,” adds Student Ambassador Sydney, an 8th grader from New Hampshire.

As part of this pilot, AASA connected the Student Ambassadors to superintendents for an hour long call. During this call, the superintendents discussed their favorite part of their position—meeting with students, and their least favorite part of their position—the meetings.

The three superintendent participants were Dr. Scott Kizner, Superintendent of Harrisonburg City School District (VA), Dr. Roberto Padilla, Superintendent of Newburgh Enlarged City School District (NY), and Rodney Watson, Superintendent of Spring ISD (TX).

 When asked:

What do superintendents care most about when it comes to students?

 The superintendents responded:

 Superintendent Rodney Watson: “That we meet all kids’ social, emotional, and academic needs.”
Superintendent Scott Kizner: “That we keep kids safe.”
Superintendent Roberto Padilla: “That all students have access to a robust education, preparing them for like. We take that seriously.”

Furthermore, the superintendents offered advice to the students on how to approach and present an idea to them. Key pieces of advice included:

  •  Be sure to be objective and not emotional; do not be intimidated.
  • Make sure that your information is research-based.
  • Idea should be coherent between the presentation and the plan. The need and the idea must match and fill a gap.
  • If using Power Point, do not read word for word. Give descriptions so people will understand.
  • Do not underestimate your influence as a student leader – use your courage to create solutions

 One 8th grade Student Ambassador from Wisconsin, Andrew, shared how his conversation on school wellness went with his superintendent. “[The superintendent] said he actually got a degree as a physical education teacher, so wellness was very important to him,” said Andrew. “[The superintendent] also said he liked the way where our school was going with the events we were doing to improve physical activity. Of course I agreed. He shared a life story of his, how he always loved to be active when he was young.”

 To help other students feel comfortable reaching out to school administrators like Superintendents, the Student Ambassadors developed a guide to empower students to make presentations to their school. This guide offers advice on how to overcome obstacles when students tell their story such as picking out main points or avoid freezing up. Read the best practices guide.

 Learn more about the Youth Engagement Network through their final report.


A Call To Action: Superintendents Can Lead Movement for Healthier Schools

(Coordinated School Health, Healthy Eating and Active Living , National Awareness) Permanent link

The following is a guest post by AASA member Joanne Avery, Superintendent of Anderson School District 4 (SC). She writes about her district's work with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Schools Program. In this past year five schools in Anderson School District 4 has been on the Alliance's list of America's Healthiest Schools.

By Joanne Avery, Superintendent of Anderson School District 4 (SC)  


 Anyone who has worked at, attended or even visited their child’s school knows that there are many people who are responsible for our children’s education. From the groundskeepers who keep our schools safe and clean, to the school nutrition professionals who keep our students nourished, to the teachers who work miracles in the classroom each and every day.

As superintendents, we have a unique vantage point to see how all these pieces come together, and to evaluate what’s working in individual schools and across our districts, at every grade level and in every unique community. And as they say, with great power comes great responsibility.  

 I believe it’s our responsibility as superintendents to educate the total child. And the best way to do that is by putting students’ basic needs first. When children are healthy and safe, they’re better able to listen in class, retain information and demonstrate their knowledge on tests.


 Nearly five years ago, Anderson School District 4 joined forces with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program to focus our wellness efforts, set goals and work strategically to achieve them. Thanks to support from our Healthy Schools Program Manager Beth Barry, every school in our district has met the Alliance’s healthy school benchmarks outlined in the Framework to earn the National Healthy Schools Award! This past year, five Anderson schools were named to the Alliance’s list of America’s Healthiest Schools.

Superintendent Joanne Avery with elementary students during a Walk to School event.


 I’m thrilled with what we’ve accomplished, and I’d love to see more administrators at the helm of district wellness efforts. After all, when district leaders make wellness a priority, principals, teachers and all of the other people who play a role in our children’s education follow suit, which can truly transform the culture of health in schools. Change starts at the top and I invite you to join me as a leader in this movement by:

  •  Role modeling healthy habits. Make sure your board and council meetings serve only foods and beverages that meet the same national nutrition standards you require your schools to meet. If you want teachers to add physical activity breaks into their lessons, show them how to make movement a part of every day and create time in the schedule for them to do so.
  •  Educating. At our core, we’re all educators. And educating the entire school about the importance of a healthy lifestyle should be part of every school’s curriculum. There are many ways to do this: Involve gardening in science lessons, focus on life-long fitness skills during physical education or offer a healthy cooking lesson for parents at back-to-school night.
  •  Building support. Incentivize the types of behavior you want to see students and staff exhibit at school. We’ve used punch cards to track healthy habits, prizes (such as a drawing to win a healthy classroom celebration), and partnerships with local businesses to provide rewards (such as gift cards for parents to purchase healthy food).

Don’t take my word for it. At Anderson 4, where we’ve put our focus on educating the total  child, we’ve seen our graduation rate improve every year since 2010. And in 2016, our high school students’ SAT scores were the highest they’d been in five years.


 We know that the success we’ve experienced is a result of many different individuals and initiatives working together toward a common goal. But we’re confident that our mission to put children’s health above all else is key to setting our students up for a lifetime of prosperity. Will you join Anderson 4 schools in the movement to make every school one of America’s Healthiest Schools?

Supporting Early Literacy Through The Community

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness) Permanent link

The start of the school year has begun and millions of young children have returned to class. Unfortunately, too many of these children arrive in the classroom without either the cognitive or social-emotional skills necessary to start to learn.

How can educators and the community ensure that that child is successful in school, no matter their socio-economic status?

There’s a duality within health and education that is a powerful combination. It has the capacity to start early and then continue through a child’s education and into adult life.  

 Reach Out and Read, an early literacy nonprofit organization connects parents and children to reading through their pediatricians, to encourage families to read aloud together and expose children to literacy from infancy. A recent article from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council of Early Childhood and Council on School Health examined the correlation between school readiness and early brain development. More specifically, they examined the role of the pediatrician in optimizing school readiness.

 Reachout and Read

 Furthermore, a recent New York Times article, “The Good News About Educational Inequality” highlighted how programs like Reach Out and Read “teach parents simple ways to build the vocabulary and cognitive skills that form the foundation for success in school.” (New York Times, August 2016)

Melinda Smith, Superintendent of North Providence School Department in Rhode Island, and member of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, writes about her district’s work in ensuring that the community encourages children to read from a young age. Dr. Beth Toolan of Rhode Island wrote a companion piece from the pediatrician’s perspective which has been published on the Reach Out and Read website.

On September 28th, Reach Out and Read wrote a supplementary companion piece about the powerful combination of health and education services.

 By Melinda Smith, Superintendent of North Providence School Department (RI)

 As a Superintendent in an urban ring community, I understand the importance of creating a network of community service partners, health care professionals and local pediatricians all working together to improve learning. A Health Equity Zone (HEZ) has been established in North Providence, RI and the school district is the lead agency organizing a community wide project focused on improving healthy lifestyles for citizens and removing learning barriers for our students in the areas of both literacy and numeracy. Working together with the Department of Health and a variety of social service agencies, the school department is reaching out into the community to connect with families well before children enter school to provide them with early literacy advice.  

 One of our HEZ initiatives includes a “Little Lending Library” nestled in the neighborhood of one of the elementary schools to provide families with quick and easy access to books that they may borrow or keep for their children. The library is being strategically placed on a new walking school bus route in the community and is being promoted by networking with our local pediatricians, hospital, child care providers and community health agencies. The goal is to encourage reading at a young age and bring access to books into the heart of the community. Community members can give a book, borrow a book or simply take a book to promote reading in their home. The school is planning to raise funds and accept gently used book donations to keep the little library well stocked!

 Marieville Elementary Principal, Bruce Butler serves dinner three nights a week at his school by taking advantage of the federal meal program. Young siblings are invited to join Marieville students for a hot nutritious meal when parents come to pick up their children. Principal Butler takes full advantage of this personal time with families and always has an inventory of books to distribute to families to take home. His faculty and staff open up the school several times a year to promote the importance of reading. Parents participate in workshops and Mr. Butler, faculty and PTA parents provide child care and literacy enrichment activities. Infants, toddlers and school age children are all welcome.

 Our schools are undergoing a transformation and not only serve as a resource to the students and families enrolled in the school but also as community partner which includes children ages birth to five and adults. Working with the RI Department of Health by participating in the HEZ project network has provided me with a better understanding of the responsibility I have as Superintendent to ensure that our schools connect with families well before children enter our school system to promote healthy lifestyles, provide access to community resources that will all contribute to the breakdown of the roadblocks to learning and give all children an equal chance at school success.