As families are getting their children and teens ready for school, it is a good time to focus on “back to school” health. Schools have become an important part of the health care system for our children. As more children with special health care needs are mainstreamed, the need for more specialized services increases. Schools become gatekeepers in some respects to make sure that students meet state school entry requirements, such as immunizations. Health is vital to a student’s ability to learn.
Schools have a critical role to play in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behavior patterns because:
- Each school day is an opportunity for the nation’s 55 million students to learn about health and practice the skills that promote healthy behaviors.
- The nation’s 125,000 schools provide many opportunities for students to practice healthy behaviors such as eating healthy foods and participating in physical activity. (1) http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/about/healthyyouth.htm
In reviewing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you realize just how extensive the health needs are among children and youth. Some examples include: almost 80 percent of secondary students do not eat five servings of fruit/vegetables; more than 33 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight; only 33 percent of students participate in daily physical education classes; more than 20 percent of students report current smoking; 20 percent of youth report mental health problems that impact their daily lives; and young people miss nearly 15 million school days a year because of asthma. (2) http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/about/healthyyouth.htm
State and territorial Title V programs support school health in a variety of ways through the development of statewide school health programs and campaigns designed to reduce tobacco use and injuries; providing services through school-based health clinics and funding of school nurse positions; and development of school health guidelines and policies, to name a few.
The role of the school nurse has developed far beyond what many of us remember the school nurse doing when we were growing up. In today’s world, the school nurse may be the first and only consistent source of health services for uninsured and underinsured students. School nurses play an ever increasing role in school health by providing a wide range of services to students, such as first aid, immunizations, identification of school-based management of acute illnesses and chronic health conditions; instruction on self-management of chronic health conditions; identification of and counseling for emotional or behavioral disorders; crisis intervention, referral for needed services and more.
But in many states, school nurses are few and far between. The national average for student to school nurses is 1:1426, almost twice what the ratio recommended by the National Association of School Nurses. According to the CDC’s SHPPS (School Health Policy and Programs Study) survey in 2006, only 37.5 percent of schools reported having a full time school nurse and 50.6 percent had a part-time school nurse. Schools reported that 45.1 percent had a nurse to student ratio of 1 to 750 or better.
School health programs can reduce the prevalence of risky behaviors that impact health among students, which can also have a positive impact on academic performance. We need to continue our efforts to ensure that schools are a healthy environment for students and that student health needs are met, especially for those with chronic health conditions.