The New York State Department of Education (NYSED) recently awarded almost $1 million to health educators at SUNY Cortland to provide school district health offices across the state with the tools and training needed to help their students live healthier lives and enjoy more academic success.
“This partnership provides the opportunity to move New York to the forefront of 21st century school health,” said Bonni C. Hodges, professor and chair of the Health Department at SUNY Cortland. “Our aim is to create a school health system for New York that is both efficient and effective and, more importantly, to foster healthy, health-literate and academically successful youth.
“We know that academically successful youth are healthier and that healthy youth are more academically successful,” Hodges asserted. “Yet the way that school health is often delivered within school systems doesn’t encourage the true partnerships across disciplines and services that could boost both the health and academic outcomes of our youth.”
She will direct a five-year project, called Building Capacity for School Health Systems Change, that will design school health system “change demonstration projects” and host a series of professional development institutes to accomplish school health objectives outlined by the NYSED. Hodges, working with NYSED, will name and convene an advisory board of between 6-10 school health system stakeholders in New York.
A second outcome will be a partnership between the College’s Health Department and three districts of different sizes to launch a demonstration project. The partnership will target districts that have a youth population at disproportionate risk for health disparities and academic failure. The demonstration project will build the capacity of school districts to use a school health planning process-model that leads to sustainable school health systems changes.
Beginning in the project’s second year and subsequent years as long as funding continues, project personnel will develop and deliver one face-to-face, half-day professional development workshop for 25-35 certified health teachers on urgent topics. Several online booster sessions will follow the workshop.
Additionally, the staff will offer workshops to physical educators and elementary educators. The goal is to provide participants with the skills needed to offer effective, engaging instruction in their own classrooms that uses health skill and content areas to further academic achievement and healthy youth outcomes. Districts will be reimbursed for hiring a substitute teacher while a school faculty member is attending a workshop.
Part of the grant will establish a permanent regional technical support network of mentors to repeat best practices and lessons learned from the systems building initiative.
Project personnel will develop, test and disseminate a school improvement-planning model to enrich administrator education programs with leadership, governance and coordination of school health activities.
SUNY Cortland, which is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education (NCATE), was chosen to host the project based on its long history of training school health educators and leaders in the program. In 2008-09, the College conferred degrees on 20 undergraduate and 59 graduate students in the program.
Hodges and SUNY Health Department Professor Donna Videto will oversee the project while continuing their academic duties at the College. In Fall 2010, a part-time project coordinator will join the undertaking, assisted by two graduate research assistants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NYSED are currently engaged in determining and delivering programs aimed at improving the health of young people, Hodges explained.
“In New York, cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading killer of adults while diabetes is growing across age groups and obesity among youth has tripled over the past thirty years,” Hodges said. “These and the other leading health problems are linked to behaviors that often begin in youth and adolescence and are often reinforced within the environments where we live, work and play.”
On the one hand, the partnership seeks to build the capacity of preschool through high school administrators to coordinate their health programs, policies and practices. On the other, they strive to enable school districts to deliver evidence-based health and physical education instruction.
One way to achieve this goal is to create and mobilize partnerships between schools, from the preschool through high-school level, and colleges and universities with teacher-administrator education programs, Hodges observed.
Over five years, SUNY Cortland will use the $986,375 grant to provide the platform for collaboration among the present partners, which are the NYSED and CDC and SUNY Cortland, as well as potential future ones, including the American School Health Association; the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; the New York State Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; and the National Education Association-Health Information Network.
These partners will work with schools to foster and support the achievement of improved health and academic outcomes of youth across New York, with a particular focus on districts that exhibit high health and academic needs, Hodges said. Ultimately, the project goal is to provide a foundation of technical support and expertise for building the capacity of school districts to develop sustainable school health programs to improve student health and academic outcomes.
Their state liaison will be Owen Donovan, an associate in school health with NYSED. A tenured teacher in health, Donovan has both his bachelor’s degree in physical education and master’s degree in health education from SUNY Cortland. Donovan was recognized in 2000 as a member of the New York State Academy of Teaching and Learning for his innovative work with learning standards and technology.
Hodges, who received her doctorate in health education from the University of Maryland at College Park, has spent the past 20 years working in and teaching about both school and community health. Her most current project is working with the National Education Association-Health Information Network on its health literacy initiative. The co-author of the white paper The Role of 21st Century Schools in Promoting Health Literacy, she served as the health literacy specialist at the Summit for 21st Century Skills held in Washington, D.C., this past June.
Videto, who earned a doctorate in health education from The Pennsylvania State University, has spent the past 20 years in higher education, primarily teaching in school health pre-professional programs. She also taught health for six years in public schools. A current member of the American Association for Health Education (AAHE)’s Board of Directors and a past co-executive director of the New York State Federation of Professional Health Educators, she is considered a key leader in health education by AAHE.