The Total Child

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.

Smart Ideas to Implement Smart Snacks

(Healthy Eating and Active Living) Permanent link

 A guest post by Jill Camber Davidson, RDN, CD, School Program Manager at Action for Healthy Kids, Chicago, IL. This post is about the Final Rule on Smart Snacks and the results of an Action for Healthy Kids/AASA Smart Snacks Survey.

The beginning of another school year is upon us. Starting the school year is more than teacher training days and student placements – it means much planning to provide our students healthy foods at school too. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 brought many changes to the food sold (and served) at schools last year. And last month, the release of the final rule for Smart Snacks* complements the meal choices already in place. This final rule affirms that all foods sold at school during the school day will be healthier choices for our students.

 Action for Healthy Kids and AASA, The Superintendent’s Association both agree that it’s important to engage the total child in an approach that extends beyond the cafeteria, resulting in a healthy school environment with students who are ready to learn.

 School leaders play a key part in establishing a whole school approach that impacts a safe, supportive and healthy school environment. In fact, AFHK and AASA, The Superintendent’s Association, surveyed the AASA membership in December 2015 about smart snacks attitudes and implementation needs in order to better understand your educational needs upon the release of the Smart Snacks final rule this year.

 AASA Member Smart Snack Survey Results

 How do school administrators feel about smart snacks?

  Over three-quarters (77%) of school leaders surveyed (n = 328 consider implementing policies and practices that meet or exceed Smart Snack standards to be an “important” or “high” priority. Additionally, two thirds of administrators agree the Smart Snack standards help balance the needs of schools while still ensuring that students have access to healthy foods and beverages during the day. Thus, school leaders agree on the need for Smart Snacks legislation and believe it should be a high priority; an important first step in implementing the new rule successfully. 

 However, the survey also showed that many competing priorities and school improvement directives often distract focus from health initiatives. Nearly half of administrators queried admitted that the implementation of robust wellness policies and practices is a lower priority than other areas of school improvement. Smart Snacks falls into this lower priority. There are also school leaders who are unclear on what the new standards mean, and how to determine which foods meet or don’t meet the standards. The survey results show that while school leaders see Smart Snacks as a high priority, there are many challenges to implementing the new rules successfully. We will be sharing ways to overcome several of these barriers in a webinar on September 28 at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT. The webinar will be hosted by AFHK and AASA, and include the perspectives from school leaders. Superintendent John Skretta of Norris School District (NE) and Superintendent Jeff Smith of Balsz School District (Ariz.) will be the featured guest speakers. They will discuss how they have implemented Smart Snacks into their own districts.  Find resources from the webinar here.

Change takes time, effort, support and resources. This webinar will also introduce parents, school staff and school leaders to other educational resources to help implement the Smart Snacks rule and support a healthy school environment. Make plans to attend this webinar as you continue to work towards making the healthy choice the easy choice for students.

Smart Ideas to Implement Smart Snacks in Schools
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 | 60 minutes
2:00 PM (ET), 1:00 PM (CT), 12:00 PM (MT), 11:00 AM (PT)


 *National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program: Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

EQUITY SERIES: U.S. Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services Recognize AASA's Contributions to Children

(Children’s Health Insurance , National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link

 Obama Administration Encourages Schools to Enroll in Health Care Coverage Through School Registration


 "The challenge for all of us, whether it's in healthcare or education is to figure out what we can do to help students and families. We know efforts like the partnership between AASA, The School Superintendents Association and The Children's Defense Fund can make a real difference connecting children and families to quality health care."

  - U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.  

 "3 out of 4 uninsured children walk through the school door...when we think about the children, [school] is the place where the children are reached, and this is the place where there are trusted voices. This is also a place where we can think about the parents' trust. It's not just about asking the question, [does your child have health insurance?], but going the next step if the answer is 'no'. Then, what do you do to get that insurance?"

  --U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell.


 Pictured (L-R) U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr, Lillian Maldonado French, Superintendent of Mountain View School District (CA), and Dan Domenech, Executive Director, AASA.

 On August 31st, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell and U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. hosted a Roundtable discussion at Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus in Washington D.C., to launch AASA and CDF's "Insure All Children" Toolkit (, supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies.This work was emanated from AASA's Children's Programs Department, whose work is centered on driving systems change and increasing educational equity. The Department is committed to equity in educational opportunities and outcomes, reducing racial disparities and aiding and assisting those most in need.

 toolkit launch

 AASA's Executive Director Dan Domenech gave opening remarks and moderated the discussion. Along with the Secretaries, Dan was joined by CDF President, Marian Wright Edelman, Superintendent Lillian Maldonado French of Mountain View School District (CA) and District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

"I worked in public education for 40 years and was a superintendent for 27 years. The health of a child is critical to a good education," Dan said as he begun the discussion.

"Children don't come in pieces," Marian Wright Edelman added. "Every child needs to be insured. We've made progress, but there's more to be done."

The discussion highlighted best practices for getting more students enrolled in health insurance by asking the simple question, "Does your child have health insurance?" on important annual school forms. All children need access to health insurance in order to succeed in school and in life.

"This shouldn't be a dream, [ access to health insurance] is something every child should have," said Superintendent French, who has worked with AASA and CDF on this initiative since 2011. "Even two to three days a month of missing school has a tremendous impact. You can't teach a child who is sick."

Watch this video with U.S Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.


 Watch this video with U.S Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell


Watch this promo video featuring AASA's Executive Director Dan Domenech and CDF's President Marian Wright Edelman as they introduce the toolkit and address how all children need to have access to comprehensive, affordable health insurance to succeed in school and in life.


 Learn more from the Department of Education's Press Release.

The "Insure All Children" Toolkit

 Our interactive toolkit contains lessons learned from 15 urban, suburban and rural school districts.  

 Find interactive maps that provide real-time data on children uninsured in school districts and short videos with advice from superintendents. Interact on social media using #InsureAllChildren to share health enrollment stories.Download a PDF copy or visit