By Jennifer Wohlleb
A new learning opportunity is being offered this summer to help school board members and educators find ways to improve student health without losing the focus on academics.
The Coordinated School Health Symposium, sponsored by KSBA and the Kentucky Department of Education, will be June 24-25 in Lexington.
“There’s no doubt that we have a serious problem, not only in Kentucky but in the nation, of obesity and a growing number of illnesses related to health issues,” said David Baird, KSBA’s associate executive director. “This impacts not only students’ lives but their ability to achieve in school and have a normal, productive life. There is a great connection between education and students’ health.”
Jamie Sparks, KDE’s Coordinated School Health project director, said the symposium will focus on everything from nutrition to physical activity, and it will do so with a team approach.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed with our work is that having a superintendent or board member who’ve been actively involved, those have been our most successful districts,” Sparks said. “So one of the things we’re doing is really focusing on the district planning process. We want district teams to come and we’re going to have that planning time at the end of the day after the breakout sessions and keynote speaker at the very end.”
Sparks said the symposium will start Sunday with a healthy schools kick off, which will recognize some of the districts that have been making policy changes or are involved in school health programs, such as Tobacco Free, Play 60 and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
The keynote speaker on Monday is Dr. John Skretta, a Nebraska school superintendent who has spoken nationally about his district’s success at blending healthy practices and academics. Sparks said Skretta’s message about coordinating the chaos blends perfectly with the symposium’s theme: Unbridled Learning: Coordinated School Health, the Missing Link.
“He will talk about the often insane demands that are on educators today,” he said. “Often times with areas of school health that aren’t necessarily requirements for schools to do, sometimes it’s hard to put a priority on those. Dr. Skretta brings a very relevant, fresh message because he’s someone who’s been there, done that, but he also sees the benefits of it and how it fits in with everything else that’s required of schools.”
Baird said state lawmakers will also be the recipients of Skretta’s message.
“We are putting together a group of legislators who we are personally inviting to come to the workshop and they will have a private session with Dr. Skretta after the keynote address,” he said. “Educators, legislators and national experts on the issue together in the same room has to be a good idea. He has had success as a superintendent of a school district in Nebraska and we’re all about having school districts that are successful telling us how they did it, looking at best practices and trying to come up with ways that we can approach the problem in a practical manner.”
Registrants will have a number of breakout sessions to choose from, most dealing with different aspects of the eight areas of coordinated school health.
“All of these sessions are things that are happening in Kentucky schools, with Kentucky leaders in these different areas,” Sparks said. “Our hope is that by highlighting the best programs, they will spread so they are not the exception but the rule in moving forward.”
This symposium is the outgrowth of two different conferences.
“Last year, KSBA partnered with the Kentucky Center for School Safety for a combined conference that became the Safe and Healthy Schools Conference,” Baird said. “We were trying that as an experiment to judge whether or not enough school districts wanted to participate and indeed there was quite a bit of interest in having some kind of coordinated school health conference related to physical activity, nutrition and the general overall health and well-being of K-12 students.”
At the same time a conference on coordinated school health sponsored by other agencies was being phased out. “So it just seemed like a good opportunity for KSBA to take a lead role in putting this symposium together to address a great need that our students have, and that is their overall health,” Baird said.
— For additional information or to register online, click on our homepage and click on "KSBA events."