City Connects Poster at APA Meeting

City Connects team member Michael Capawana, a Counseling Psychology graduate student in the Lynch School of Education, is presenting a poster at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this week. His poster, “School and Community Agency Collaboration on Student Health Needs,” was recognized as one of the top student-authored posters being presented in its division.

The poster focuses on how City Connects addresses student health needs, in addition to academic, social/emotional, and family needs. Policymakers and educators agree that elementary and secondary schools can play a significant role in the promotion of healthy development in children. The evidence is clear that improving children’s health facilitates positive academic outcomes, while poor nutrition, inactivity, and chronic medical conditions have been linked to less successful academic performance. In children, physical illness is often concurrent with psychological and social problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, which can lead to absenteeism and decreased academic achievement.

The task of addressing students’ health factors cannot and should not be accomplished by schools alone. Instead, efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals. The communities in which schools are embedded, particularly urban environments, possess services and enrichment opportunities that have the potential to address student risk, increase resiliency, and ultimately improve academic outcomes. The collaborative role of community agencies in delivering health-based services to students is essential.

Michael’s study describes the health needs impacting a population of urban students; participants were 3,709 students in grades K-5, enrolled in 11 Boston elementary schools in City Connects. Within this population:

  • 57% of all students had at least one general need, with most students having more than one
  • 16% of all students were recognized as having 725 health needs
  • Each student had an average of 1.3 health concerns, with some children having multiple
  • The most prevalent needs identified included visual impairment, weight/nutritional issues (primarily obesity), asthma, allergies, hearing impairment, speech difficulties, hygiene, and sleep problems

City Connects is succeeding at addressing various health needs for many students to improve overall thriving. However, with the burgeoning prevalence of medical problems facing children, the responsibility of caring for kids extends to the community. Efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals to facilitate access to existing resources available in the community for children and families, and foster the healthy development of all students.

Co-authors of this paper include Mary E. Walsh, PhD, Kathleen Flanagan, PhD, and Norman C. Hursh, ScD, CRC, CVE.

City Connects School Wins Health Award

Alliance for a Healthier GenerationThe John F. Kennedy elementary school in Jamaica Plain, a City Connects school, is being honored by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for fighting childhood obesity. The Alliance, founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, has recognized the JFK school for transforming its campus into a healthier place for students and staff.

To earn this award, the JFK revamped its meals service and physical activity programs to meet or exceeded stringent standards set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, which provides expert advice and free resources to more than 12,000 schools nationwide to help them reverse the national trend in childhood obesity. Schools are eligible for Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum National Recognition Awards based on their level of achievement. The JFK school, a Bronze National Recognition Award winner, joins 274 other schools that are receiving this honor for their healthy achievements.

Rachel Garcia, the City Connects health coordinator at the JFK,  said that as a turnaround school, this milestone is particularly important. The school set out to achieve a National Recognition Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, requiring definite changes in the school schedule and the attitudes about increasing physical activity for students.

“With 70% new staff and a new principal, there is a reinvigorated quest for change. The principal, Waleska Landing-Rivera, was very enthusiastic and supportive in establishing a School Wellness Council to improve the overall health and wellness of our students and staff. For instance, Mrs. Landing-Rivera made recess a mandatory daily occurrence for at least 20 minutes, and also granted a second daily recess to kindergarten and first graders. Physical Education was also added to each student’s schedule at least once a week for 50 minutes. Many classes have P.E. twice a week.

Additionally, the City Connects/New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness Curriculum brought in not only content but also daily classroom movement breaks and physical activity exercise games. For next year, we plan to have daily morning Jammin’ Minutes for the whole school to complete after breakfast, which will increase the physical activity movement for every student. We are proud of our Bronze Level accomplishment and next year we will try for Silver!”

Two other Boston schools were recognized at a the June 13 awards ceremony in Little Rock, Arkansas. In response to this award, which comes on the heels of a new health and wellness district-wide  initiative, Boston Public Schools superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson said:

“We are working aggressively to close access and achievement gaps for our students, but for us to be successful in that endeavor we must have healthy, engaged students. We know that if our students are eating right and staying active they will be more engaged in the classroom. We take pride in the staff at these schools who are going the extra mile for our students.”

Last year, seven BPS schools were recognized, including two City Connects schools, the Quincy and Mission Hill. Congratulations to the JFK and this year’s winning schools!

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