Academic journal article Journal of School Health

The Comprehensive School Health Curriculum: Closing the Gap between State-of-The Art and State-of-the-Practice

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

The Comprehensive School Health Curriculum: Closing the Gap between State-of-The Art and State-of-the-Practice

Article excerpt

Though rarely receiving appropriate attention and emphasis in the past by planners of curriculum and instruction, school health education always has been considered an important part of each community's effort to promote the public's health. Today, however, the need for comprehensive school health education has reached a level of criticality greater than ever before, in large part because of the following three factors.

1) Our nation's most serious and threatening health problems relate primarily to personal decision-making and lifestyle;

2) Those individual behaviors and personal lifestyles that lead to preventable illness and premature death are almost always developed and/or sustained during the school years; and

3) As an institution, the school is uniquely suited to respond to each student's basic need for health education, including the student's need to develop skills for independent thinking and decision-making. [1]

AT-RISK CHILDREN AND YOUTH

Children and youth grow up today in an environment that increasingly encourages risk-taking behavior. In fact, it could be said that to grow up in the United States today is, by definition, to be at risk. Such realities as the changing nature of the family unit, the pervasive advertising of addictive substances through marketing campaigns targeted specifically to the young, long hours of passive television viewing that unrealistically depict the rapid resolution of life's most difficult problems, are but a few examples of the many factors that make up an environment in which health-enhancing decisions by children and youth are made more difficult. [2,3]

The United States is a nation, and a people, at risk, because of a number of educational woes, including a national drop-out rate of about 30%. [4] What is more, this nation is at further risk because a large number of its children and youth engage in risky behaviours that jeopardize their health now as well as in the future such as teen-age pregnancy. The same risk behaviors also undermine their ability to learn and to achieve academically. [5]

Obviously, the school did not, and cannot by itself, determine the overall quality of the environment in which our nation's children and youth live. However, to the extent that the school is unresponsive to the special needs resulting from the contemporary environment, the prospect for risk behavior, illness and injury, and subsequent school failure are all made more likely. [6] If the school simply mirrors the larger community in the environment it provides each student, then the school can unwittingly increase the probability of risk behaviors and their negative outcomes.

In the United States today, more than 90% of all children are born healthy. However, due to myriad factors including poor role models, peer pressure, ambiguous role expectations, alienation, inadequate access to health care, unresponsive societal institutions, and lack of systematic health education, children and youth, in varying degrees, develop risk behaviors and health deficits that impede their educational progress, and which place their very lives in jeopardy. The 1988 National Adolescent Student Health Survey [7] reveals a dramatic profile of a nation whose adolescent population is at multiple risk for ill health, injury, disability, and poor school performance. These five points should be kept in mind when examining data related to such factors.

1) Most of these at-risk adolescents entered school healthy, drug-free, and eager to learn.

2) Virtually all of these risk behaviors and risk conditions result in some measure from individual choices.

3) The vast majority of students in this study were not exposed to either a comprehensive school health education curriculum or to a complete school health program.

4) After the home, the school has the greatest capacity to intervene to the benefit of each student. …

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