Teacher holding her chest and bell, teaching breathing exercises to students who are sitting on the floor in a classroom

Healthier places for students

Today’s high school and college graduates will shape our communities for decades. The schools that produce these graduates are responsible for more than educating them.
Teachers and other school employees are expected to keep kids safe, help them navigate difficult emotions, and address the many challenges that students bring to school from other parts of their lives. They must do this vital work while trying not to become overstressed or sick themselves.

Healthy schools start with healthy teachers

Creating healthier places for students means making sure that teachers, counselors, librarians, principals, custodians, bus drivers and other school staff have opportunities to be physically and mentally healthy, too. This requires more than encouraging individual healthy choices, although those choices are important. At the school district and school-system levels, it means building a workplace culture that supports wellness for the adults who are shaping our kids—and our future.

Megan Lee, North Clackamas School District
If you don’t have a healthy staff, you can’t have healthy students. Kids are always watching.

Megan Lee

North Clackamas School District


How place matters to our health

  • Social conditions

    Kids who are hungry may struggle to concentrate in school, miss more days and fall behind academically.

    Education, income,
    discrimination and structural
    racism are among the social conditions that can limit or
    expand a person’s ability to live a healthy life.

    Three people standing on boxes trying to grab apples from a tree. First person is the tallest with the shortest box. Second person is at middle length with the middle length box. Third person is at the shortest length with the highest box. All three people are able to grab apples from the tree.
  • Physical settings

    Communities that create safe routes to walk, bike or roll to school help students incorporate physical activity into their day and arrive at school ready to learn.

    The locations where we live,
    work, learn, play or age, such as
    our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, parks,
    senior centers and public spaces, help determine how healthy we
    can be.

    A neighborhood showing a house next to an apartment building next to an office building.
  • Industry practices

    To hook the next generation, tobacco companies continue to advertise heavily at stores near schools, with large ads and signs visible from outside the stores.

    Companies sell things—they always have. But today, kids are surrounded by marketing that pushes harmful products, while low-income adults and communities of color are specifically targeted.

    An outdoor billboard showing a sugary drink advertisement for
  • People power

    School district leaders who adopt wellness policies can reduce the number of days that teachers miss work for illness and other reasons.

    Governments, communities and voters can change policies and environments in ways that make
    it easier or harder to make healthy choices.

    A group of diverse people speaking up at a forum


  • Open Video Modal

    Michelle Jenck:
    We attracted not only our healthcare partners who were already obviously part of doing that kind of work in the community, but we brought in other community partners that were in the food systems or in providing community programming around health and wellness, like the YMCA and OSU Extension. We also attracted private business and other organizations and sectors like the schools. Everybody wanted to be part of it and they all stepped up in some way, shape or form to participate at some level.

    The decision to focus on prediabetes was largely centered around the fact that the same community health indicators, the same health behaviors, the same health equity concerns and the same social determinants of health influence a lot of chronic diseases, whether they be diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke. We’ve long understood what we need to be doing differently to be healthier and for a variety of reasons, it’s been really hard to actually achieve those goals. So, the effort that we identified as a priority in our community was really intended to address the fact that there is this huge disconnect between what we know we should be doing and what we are doing, and how could we as a community step up and fill that gap?

    Lauren Sorg:
    Our community members are facing so many barriers on top of barriers, on top of barriers that access to food gets lowered down on the priority list for parents that are trying to keep their lights on or that have other bills to pay.

    We provide these spaces for consumers to come in and access the food. So, like our farm table store front, we have a farm share program so that is a weekly subscription box that anyone could sign up for. We’ve got three local farms that deliver the products to our storefront and then the community member signs up their family and themselves and they come on a once a week basis and pick up their food. We’ve expanded that program to meet the needs of low-income community members by providing a hundred dollars off for SNAP families to be able to have a farm share box.

    Curt Shelley:
    So, in Tillamook the school is the focal point of the larger community. And when I say that, what I mean is that there are so many things that go on here and it’s a great opportunity for us to promote wellness, to promote health, to promote emotional and physical wellness. And it’s really nice, the support and the collaboration that we get from other organizations around community.

    Health means something different to all people. And for some people it’s weight loss or some people it’s healthy cooking, for some people it’s socialization, and so it’s different for all people. And so we’ve put as many things together that we could put together to allow people to become involved and participate.

    Michelle Jenck:
    Behavior change is heavily influenced organically. What people see and observe around them is what they tend to do. It’s just how we’re wired. And so creating the conditions in the community that influence behavior in that organic way is really what we strive to do.

    Curt Shelley:
    So we’ve noticed that when you’re well you want to come to work and we’ve also noticed that we have less absences on Wednesdays, and we would like to think that that might be because of some of the Wellness Wednesday things that we have going on and motivational things through wellness.

    Michelle Jenck:
    Encouraging people to understand how changing their relationship with food, changing their relationship with being active, changing their relationship with how they interact with each other in their family unit, at work, in the community can be done in a way that’s health promoting. And an extension of that is that they are likely to lose some weight and they are likely to experience some potentially significant improvements in their health indicators as a result of that.

    Lauren Sorg:
    I couldn’t think of any better work. I mean, food is life. I mean, food and water, you need those things. And so to be able to work in community food systems and work with students, babies all the way up into senior citizens, you’re providing this opportunity for them to really grow and love in the community that they belong to.

    Shelley Jenck:
    To connect people in ways that might not seem obvious to them that they are health promoting, and that’s really the goal. We want this to be something that is a natural extension of their day to day life, it becomes their default because it’s just the way that the community is shaped, it’s how people here live.

    Partners create a healthier Tillamook County

    Nearly 1 in 3 people in Tillamook County are living with obesity. Nearly 1 in 4 have diabetes or prediabetes. To reverse these trends, 40 community partners are working to reshape food, school and other important systems that affect people’s everyday lives. They believe a healthy community is the responsibility of the community, not just the individual.

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  • Healthy schools build a healthier Oregon

    Schools and the people inside them are important to me because I come from a long line of educators. My parents, both of my grandfathers, three aunts and one uncle were—or still are—teachers. Even though I didn’t follow my relatives’ career path, I can tell that schools have become healthier over the past few decades….

    Read the full story
    Three kids sitting on the floor indoors looking off into the distance

Time to get involved

Whether you have one minute or a full day, we all can play a role in creating healthier places for Oregon students.

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Personal stories show how schools, and other places where we learn, affect how healthy we can be. Share the story of North Clackamas schools.

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Share the facts

Statistics prove how place matters to the health of our communities. Download web-friendly facts about schools and health to share with neighbors and coworkers.

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Get to know a partner

Dozens of organizations are working to make better places and better lives for students and young people, including Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

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Key factors shape health in all communities, but they’re not easy to see. These PowerPoint slides reveal the drivers of health in the places where we learn.

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Things that Caught our eye

  • Oregon: 2021 Culture of Health Prize Informational Webinar August 6, Applications due October 15

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health Prize elevates stories of transforming education, jobs, transportation, housing, and more so better health flourishes for all. A Culture of Health recognizes that where we live affects how long and how well we live.

  • Oregon: OPRA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee

    The Oregon Parks and Recreation Association DEI Committee is a diverse group of park and recreation professionals pursuing meaningful action toward racial and social equity for all in recreation and park spaces. Their mission is to enact change by recognizing diversity in our communities, building equitable systems, and providing inclusive spaces and programs. Get involved today.

  • Oregon: America Walks Report—Health Benefits of Walking

    Less than 50% of youth and 24% of adults get enough physical activity. Walking can literally save lives, especially for the physically inactive. Read about the top health benefits of walking in this report.

  • Oregon Safe Routes to School Program Review

    Help improve the application process for the Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS), creating safe and convenient ways for kids to walk, bike and roll to school in Oregon communities.

  • CDC Physical Activity Strategies

    Guidelines to increase physical activity access and outreach. From creating and improving walking trails to providing access to existing facilities.

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