As any school board member can attest, society continues to gradually increase the non-academic responsibilities and expectations of our nation’s public schools. Some responsibilities that were traditionally considered to be exclusively the obligation of families are now being shared with schools – including a focus on the overall health and wellness of our children.

Significant research supports the idea that healthy students are more successful students – in other words, that health and wellness are among the important factors that impact student achievement, along with school climate, community-supported schools and social-emotional learning.

The New Jersey School Boards Association is coordinating the Health and Wellness Task Force to address the concerns of student well-being in New Jersey’s public schools. The hope is that the work of this task force will be the model for school boards associations across the nation to address this important issue.

This newly-created task force is being convened to develop a structure that can be adopted by school districts to develop comprehensive health and wellness policies, and implement programs within districts and communities to address their unique challenges.

Members of the task force will work with the other stakeholders who are involved in health and wellness and to develop an action plan of activities and implementation time frames that are required to achieve these resolutions and outcomes.

The task force will be expected to build on the initiatives that have already been implemented and to develop recommendations on other initiatives that may be created based on local needs. Additionally, when the task force completes its work and reaches consensus, the members will use the group’s recommendations as a basis for developing policies and programs.

This task force has been created to join together all entities and individuals who have the mission of improving student achievement by raising the bar of health and the well-being of the public school students in New Jersey.

It will determine the ways in which health and wellness policies, practices and processes impact student achievement, and will develop recommendations for consideration by local boards of education. They will select those recommendations they choose to implement, based on local district needs.

The task force will also investigate all areas associated with health and wellness, social and emotional learning (SEL), and school climate as they relate to student achievement.

One goal of the task force is to show the relationship between health and wellness and its effect on student achievement. The following items will be included in discussions:

  • Curriculum and student achievement
  • Food service guidelines
  • Food and nutritional guidelines
  • Physical education requirements
  • Before- and after-school programs
  • School gardens and environmental/outdoor education
  • Sustainability and “green” efforts and practices in schools
  • School climate
  • Local and school district policies that govern individual schools
  • Federal and state regulations and guidelines
  • Pending state and federal legislative developments
  • Human resources and personnel requirements for schools
  • School facilities, classroom design and layout, and other physical plant issues
  • Mental health and its impact on student health and wellness
  • Community life and organizations
  • Parental involvement, including the national Parent Teacher Association
  • The role of the faith-based community on student health and wellness

Recognizing that this is a challenge, the task force will publish its report no later than June 2015.

The task force is meeting monthly to identify and research a comprehensive list of areas in which student health and wellness impact student achievement, and recommend ways to affect and improve them.

Some of the assignments that the task force will undertake include conducting surveys on student health and wellness practices that may affect student achievement, and consulting with experts in related areas. The group will also review current developments and the latest research governing student health and wellness, and how it impacts achievement. It will identify best practices and changes in statute and regulation that would promote positive changes in student health and wellness and impact student achievement. In addition, the task force will determine the financial impact of possible changes and identify possible funding sources, as well as review relevant NSBA policy, and if appropriate, recommend additions or changes to existing NSBA policy.

The end result of the task force will be a white paper to share with all state school boards associations. The report will identify best practices and list recommendations that associations could adopt and share with local school districts. Ideally, school districts would select for implementation those recommendations that best fit their local needs.

Also, the task force may produce a user-friendly video on ways in which health and wellness best practices improve student achievement, and disseminate it to state school boards associations for sharing with members.

Representation will be sought from all facets of school and community life that impact children. The participation of stakeholders on the local and federal level who deal with health and wellness issues will also be sought.

Members currently included in the task force include Aramark; the Atlantic County Special Services food service director; Humana; the New Jersey Association of Counties; the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; the New Jersey Department of Education; the New Jersey Department of Health; the New Jersey Farm-to-School Network; the New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group; the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; the New Jersey PTA; the New Jersey Schools Insurance Group; the New Jersey Work Environment Council, the New Jersey YMCA; the Princeton Green Schools Coalition; Rutgers University; Sodexo; the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network; Sustainable Jersey for Schools; United Way; the U.S. Green  Building Council.

Any board member who would like to volunteer for the task force is welcome to join. For more information on this task force, please contact Sharon Seyler.