9 Healthy Schools Initiatives Every Parent Should Know About
In recent years the Government of Ontario has developed and released an unprecedented number of initiatives related to school health and the wellbeing of children and youth. Below is a summary of key initiatives from the Ministry of Education that impact your children at school and beyond.
1. Foundations for a Healthy School
Schools are being encouraged to take a comprehensive approach to student health. Research shows that a healthy school environment supports student success... but how can schools create such an environment? It takes commitment and teamwork. Not only are high quality instruction and programs important, but so is having a healthy physical environment , a supportive social environment and community partners who care. By taking a pledge to participate in the Ministry of Education’s Healthy Schools Recognition Program, publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools in Ontario can start to take steps (or can build on the steps they’ve already taken) to meet the criteria for creating a truly healthy learning environment while celebrating their successes along the way. Learn more about the Foundations for a Healthy School.
2. The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education, Interim Edition (revised 2010)
Kids are learning skills that can lead to a lifetime of healthy, active living. Gone are the days when Health and Phys Ed classes focused exclusively on team sports! Today’s kids are being exposed to a well-rounded program that teaches them the skills they’ll need to lead healthy, active lives... both today and well into the future. The revised curriculum is based on the idea of helping kids to develop ‘physical and health literacy.’ It’s a concept that sees educators using physical activity as a vehicle for teaching skills to benefit students throughout their lives (for example, building relationships and managing stress). So while they’re getting up and getting active, kids are also learning to make connections between their own health, the world around them and the health of others. Learn more about the Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health & Physical Education
3. Daily Physical Activity in Elementary Schools
Kids are getting up and getting active at least 20 minutes each school day. Getting active in Health and Physical Education class is important, but it isn’t enough. That’s why the Ministry of Education has a Daily Physical Activity policy. It ensures that, no matter what else is going on in the school day, all kids in Ontario public schools are spending a minimum of 20 minutes of classroom time being physically active. This could include aerobics in the aisles of the classroom, or might be incorporated into a walk outside to observe nature during a science unit. However they get active each day, one thing is for sure: students are enjoying a range of health benefits. Not only are they getting their heart rates up, but research has shown that they are better learners, have increased attendance, exhibit fewer behaviour problems and demonstrate greater self esteem. Learn more about the Daily Physical Activity in Elementary Schools Grades 1-8 Policy. PPM No.138
4. School Food and Beverage Policy
Schools are encouraging healthy eating by selling healthy foods. It’s great to teach children about the importance of healthy eating but it’s also important to show them. By making only healthy foods available for sale in Ontario schools, the School Food and Beverage Policy is helping children to make good dietary choices – something which can lead to a reduced risk of developing serious, chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Schools are now required to ensure that 80% of the food and drinks they sell fall into the healthiest category (with high nutrients and lower amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium). Twenty percent may contain slightly higher amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, while products with few nutrients and high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium (candy, deep-fried foods) can’t be sold. Foods brought from home and foods sold for fundraising activities that occur off school grounds are some of the exceptions to the rule. Learn more about the School Food and Beverage Policy. PPM No. 150.
5. Bullying Prevention and Intervention
Kids are learning how to treat one another with respect. You’ve probably seen news stories about teen suicides linked to bullying. You’ve more than likely heard the statistics. You or your child may have even experienced the effects of bullying first-hand. With far-reaching consequences on kids, families and communities, it’s a problem Ontario school boards know they can’t afford to ignore. To foster positive learning and teaching environments, all Ontario school boards now have policies on bullying prevention and intervention. These policies focus on creating supportive school environments and take a proactive approach by giving administrators, teachers and students the knowledge and skills they need to address the issue. With the right support, students who are bullied, students who bully others and students who witness bullying can all learn to play a part in creating a school where everyone feels safe and respected. Learn more about the Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy. PPM No.144.
6. Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy
Schools are helping to lay the foundation for good mental health. Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions strategy is creating better mental health and addictions services for everyone in our province. But in the first three years, it’s placing a special focus on the needs of young people. This support falls under three areas: 1) fast access to high-quality services, 2) early identification and support and 3) helping vulnerable kids with unique needs. In schools, this means making mental health workers and nurses with mental health expertise available to students, as well as giving educators, social workers and other professionals who work with kids the tools and training they need to identify mental health issues early on. Another key component includes building awareness of mental illness in order to reduce stigma and discrimination. Learn more about Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.
7. Equity and Inclusive Education Policies
Ontario schools are places where everyone belongs and everyone can learn. Every child in the province has the right to feel like they belong in an Ontario school – no matter what his or her race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, ethnic origin, creed or religion, physical or intellectual ability, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age or family status. To support this, all publicly-funded Ontario school boards must have equity and inclusion policies. These policies guide schools in helping all students to see themselves represented in the curriculum, in the programming, in the culture of the school and in the makeup of the school board’s workforce. Furthermore, school staff must be given access to training in topics like anti-racism and gender-based violence, and students and parents should be provided with information to help them understand the principles of equity and inclusive education. Learn more about the Equity and Inclusive Education policy. PPM. No. 119.
8. The Safe Schools Act
Ontario schools are taking the right to personal safety seriously. Students can’t learn—and teachers can’t teach—if they don’t feel safe! To help create a positive, nurturing environment, the Safe Schools Act outlines expectations for behaviour. This includes a code of conduct for students and staff and lists the consequences (like expulsions and suspensions) if the code isn’t followed. The Act also includes supports for expelled students to help them get back on track. In addition to making sure everyone knows what’s expected in terms of behaviour, the Act also aims to create safe spaces in Ontario schools. It lists who is allowed on school premises, requires all staff to undergo a police check, and sets standards for cooperation between school boards and police (in the event of an incident). Learn more about the Safe Schools Act.
9. Sabrina’s Law (Anaphylaxis Policy)
Children with life-threatening allergies are being protected. For some kids, a crumb from a peanut butter cookie or a product with a trace of dairy protein can be deadly. In accordance with Sabrina’s law (named after a young girl who died of an anaphylactic reaction following exposure in her school) every school board must have an anaphylaxis policy in place. These policies include strategies to reduce the risk of exposure to allergy-causing agents (such as rules about peanut-free lunches and snacks). They also include plans for regular staff training and for communicating with parents, students and staff about life-threatening allergies. Finally, they include a requirement that every school principal must keep up-to-date files on each anaphylactic student so that they’re fully aware of their prescriptions, emergency contacts and treatment plans in case of an emergency. Asthma can also be life threatening and has many things in common with life threatening allergies that schools and parents need to address to help keep students safe. Learn more about Sabrina’s Law and Creating Asthma Friendly Schools. Ophea has developed several resources and educational materials for schools and parents to create supportive schools for Asthma and Anaphylaxis – learn more.
Ophea would like to thank the following individuals for their contribution to the development of this resource: Jane Berardini, Middlesex-London Health Unit Dr. Bruce Ferguson, The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto Dr. James Mandigo, Brock University Dr. Gail McVey, The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto Dr. Charles Pascal, Special Advisor on Early Learning to Premier Dalton McGuinty Myra Stephen, Ministry of Education People for Education