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

Schools

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

WATCH THE VIDEO

  • Open Video Modal

    Megan Lee:
    My job is to move a really big heavy needle. I think about things like can a community really change? Can I help facilitate all of the things that need to come together so that North Clackamas is the healthiest school in Oregon.

    My role is to kind of take a look at the health of our population. That’s all staff. Everything from our superintendent to the folks that get our kids to and from school, our lunch staff, support people, teachers. Also, kind of coupled in that is trying to create a culture shift where we are sort of engineering the culture of our school district to encourage healthier employees.

    Most schools are committed to wellness, but we are one of, if not the only district in the state of Oregon that has a person like myself dedicated to doing this work full time. Health is important and you always want to have people working there that feel good about what they’re doing and about where they are. Additionally, if you don’t have a healthy staff, you can’t have healthy students. Kids are always watching and so whatever little things that those adults are doing in the building, bringing in a healthy snack to eat while their kids are watching them. If you see that teacher or that administrator walking, the kids are going to be more inclined to follow suit. We have yoga going in several of our schools right now. We also have sort of a stress management curriculum that’s being adopted, and I’m piloting a couple of schools. We are in the process of finishing a zen den for staff at one of our high schools that has a pretty unique population so that they can have a space to go and sort of deescalate before going back into a classroom after crisis.

    Teachers have a really hard job. So they’re not only responsible for the educational success of every student that comes into their building. They’re also responsible for their safety, to make sure that they’re getting something to eat during the day, that all these other things that these kids are bringing in with them, they have to take that on as well.

    Stress, compassion, fatigue. So having to help navigate through the trauma of their students, those desires to give when there’s not a lot left to give. But because these stressors don’t really go away, some of these things can manifest over time into health conditions for people. You also get anxiety, depression, inability to sleep, lack of focus, and this is true outside of education, as well, but teachers definitely are experiencing that.

    For some kids their best support is happening while they’re here in our buildings. And then those habits, that education, that whole child’s education, social, emotional learning, academics, all of it, those kids take that home with them and so then they have an opportunity to enrich their own families with some of the things that we’re able to provide them with here.

    I love seeing people do things that they didn’t think they were capable of, making choices that are hard, but that make their life better. Those are the things that remind me that not only is the work important, but that it’s working, little by little, one person at a time, and that, over time, we will get there.

    Helping schools be healthier places

    North Clackamas School District is one of only a few Oregon school districts with an employee wellness coordinator. She focuses on making system-wide changes that help all employees be healthier and more successful at their jobs. This shift toward a healthier school culture is having a positive effect on students, too.

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GET THE FACTS

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READ THE BLOG

  • 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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