Healthy kids learn better, and they also grow up to be healthier, happier, more productive adults. Upstream Public Health believes Oregon should work with our K-12 public schools to ensure Oregon’s youth have their best chance of success in school and in life.
Why It Matters
The present generation of school children is the first generation in American history to have shorter projected lifespans than their parents. Those projections are the result of obesity and the other chronic diseases associated with it, including diabetes and several types of cancer.
What We’re Doing
Upstream is part of Healthy Kids Learn Better, a statewide coalition of organizations and individuals working collectively to promote policies and programs that will reduce physical, social, and emotional barriers to learning. The goal of the coalition is to build supportive funding, leadership, and policies on the connections between health and education in order to keep kids safe, healthy, and ready to learn. Upstream helps guide the coalition as a member of the steering committee, along with representatives from some of our partner organizations: Oregon Public Health Institute, American Heart Association, OEA Choice Trust, Oregon Medical Association, Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon, and Oregon School Based Health Care Network.
- School District and School Wellness Policy Promotion - Upstream works closely with the Healthy Kids Learn Better coalition, and sometimes independently, to promote the components of school health that have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These components include physical education, safe and healthy school environments, wellness policies, water access, programs to address chronic absenteeism, nutrition programs and services, and more.
- Student Chronic Absenteeism Awareness and Research - Chronic absenteeism (ChAb) is when a particular student misses 10% of school days or more for any reason (excused or unexcused) within a given academic year. That means a student that misses 18 days of school a year, or roughly 2 days each month is considered to be chronically absent. Oregon has one of the highest chronic absenteeism rates in the nation with 22%, nearly 1 in 4 children, in K-12 chronically absent each year. Chronic Absenteeism is a predictor of dropping out; so it is not suprising that 1 in 3 Oregon high school students do not graduate. We are working with partners to better understand the health reasons behind chronic absenteeism such as hunger, asthma, lack of health care access, and fear of bullying. For more information on this issue, please see Attendance Works and a recent local briefing paper about the issue in Oregon here.
- State Healthy Schools Policy Advocacy - We are also working with legislators and coalition partners to investigate possible legislation to provide state support for school district wellness coordinators, and/or for a position in the Department of Education to provide support to wellness coordinators around the state.
What You Can Do
Interested in learning more about ongoing ways to get involved in these issues? E-mail Kasandra, Upstream's Policy Manager for Food and School Health, and she'll point you in the right direction.
Our Successes So Far
Upstream has been working to promote and expand Farm to School programs in Oregon since 2006; see Food & Nutrition. Upstream works to promote, and when necessary fight to preserve, existing programs and policies. In the 2012 legislative session, we worked hard to defeat HB 4104, which would have reduced school district’s obligation to report on their compliance with certain physical education and nutrition requirements.
In 2012, Upstream and the Healthy Kids Learn Better coalition were very involved in the education reform efforts headed by Governor John Kitzhaber. The Oregon Education Investment Board was given the challenge of integrating the education system from birth through college, and improving overall outcomes.
We are proud to report that we were successful in getting “attendance” included as a measure of health in the new “achievement compacts” for K- 12 school districts. This will appear as one of the key measures that school districts track, along with test scores and graduation rates.