Elementary, Middle Schools Set Goals For Student Health

Annie Martin

By Annie MartinThe Daily Northwestern

The health program at Evanston/Skokie School District 65 begins even before students start their first day of kindergarten.

Although schools having been keeping an eye on students’ health for many years, the district is expanding its role in students’ health with a wellness policy, which is now required for every district in Illinois.

The district’s wellness policy, adopted in August, sets goals for physical activity and implements nutrition guidelines for all schools.

“We’re excited about rolling this out in our district, but we know we need community involvement,” Coordinator of Food Services Christine Frole said.

The wellness policy is another layer of the district’s health program, which works to balance the responsibility of parents and schools with regard to student health issues. This has become increasingly important in special education as schools receive more children with severe needs, Park School Nurse Pat Hayden said.

The district works to maintain students’ health with a regimen that includes hearing and vision screenings, immunization requirements and nutritionally sound lunches.

In order for students to attend kindergarten, for example, all students must have had a physical examination, a blood lead test or assessment, a dental check and several immunizations.

The district serves age-appropriate portions, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat meats and cheeses. In addition, certain vitamins are present in every meal and there is no a la carte option in elementary schools, Frole said.

“The nation has a prevalence of overweight children,” she said. “We have to stress physical activity, too.”

Student health is an especially important component of Hayden’s job. As a nurse at Park School, a special education building that serves students from three to 21 years old, Hayden spends a large part of her day going out into the classrooms.

Hayden said she has helped students who breathe through artificial tubes in their throats or who are on oxygen. The state also requires that special education students receive hearing and vision checks every year.

“The students need more medical intervention than when I started,” said Hayden, who has worked at Park School for more than 20 years.

Hayden said this partly is because the school now serves students with severe and profound retardation rather than just those with moderate retardation. Hayden said she often refers parents to doctors and will suggest health care options.

“We’re really here as a resource,” Hayden said. “(Student health) is the parent’s ultimate responsibility.”

District Health Coordinator Mary Larson said she thought health services are especially important for families who would not otherwise be able to provide their children with health care but that the district’s offerings has benefits for wealthier families as well.

“If you look at the history of public schools, kids were missing a lot of school due to health problems,” Larson said.

Nichols Middle School PTA Co-president Sarah Hanson said she has been pleased with the health services her three children have received in D65. But Hanson said she didn’t think health education in the schools was a high priority for the parents at her school.

“We do hear a lot of concerns but I wouldn’t say the health curriculum is up there at this age,” she said. “It’s not what parents are thinking about.”

Reach Annie Martin at [email protected]