Involving Families in School Health Education: Implications for Professional Preparation

By Birch, David A. | Journal of School Health, September 1994 | Go to article overview

Involving Families in School Health Education: Implications for Professional Preparation


Birch, David A., Journal of School Health


Numerous professionals involved in school health education and youth health promotion have emphasized the importance of parent and family involvement in school health education. Mason, commenting on the importance of school-parent partnerships, stated, "The interaction between parents and children may well be the most important key to lasting, long-term improvements in the overall health status of this country."[1] Iammarino et al[2] contend "it is important to consider the family and schools in a partnership designed to maximize their mutual influence on students' current and future health behavior." Code Blue, a report of the National Commission on the Role of the School and the Community in Improving Adolescent Health, recommends that educators recognize "the necessity of working with not only adolescents, but their families, whatever the composition of the families might be."[3]

Numerous reasons exist to involve family members in childrens' education programs. Research indicates parent involvement in education increases not only student achievement,[4] but self-esteem and parent support for schools.[5] Specific to health education, programs that include parent involvement have been shown to positively affect changes in childrens' diets,[6] smoking behavior among parents,[7] parent eating and exercise habits,[8] and child-parent discussion about health topics.[9]

Other ways family involvement can increase the positive effect of school health education include provision of reinforcement by parents for topics covered in school health education, and the presentation of a family perspective on values-laden topics.[10] Through participation in activities, family members can learn new information and develop skills to promote their own health. In addition, family involvement may create a greater awareness of the instructional program that, in turn, may engender support for comprehensive school health education.

Appropriate family involvement will vary. For some children and youth, involvement may mean interaction with parents (mother and/or father). For others, involvement may be with a grandparent, sibling, or other significant adult. Throughout this article, the terms "parent involvement" and "parent and family involvement" are used interchangeably.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PROFESSIONAL PREPARATION

Unfortunately, while the importance and potential benefits of parent/family involvement have been established, preparing prospective educators for such involvement often has been overlooked. Engaging family members is not an inherent skill that new or experienced educators necessarily possess. Bermudez and Padron[11] contend that, "Few teacher education institutions prepare teachers to communicate with parents, even though parent involvement in schools has been shown to have positive effects on children's achievement." Chavkin and Williams,[12] in a survey of educators and parents, verified this lack of professional preparation. Of 575 teacher educators responding to a question in the survey about the inclusion of parent-teacher relations in their courses, 4% reported a complete course on the topic, 15% reported part of a course, and 37% reported spending one class on the topic. Comparatively, 70% of teachers and 80% of principals and teacher educators reported that a required course was needed.

School health educators entering the field must be prepared to constructively engage parents and other family members. Professional preparation for parental involvement is applicable to several competencies and sub-competencies in the Responsibilities and Competencies for Entry-Level Health Educators as identified by the National Task Force on the Preparation and Practice of Health Educators[13]. These competencies provide the framework for NCATE approval of health education professional preparation programs.[14]

To ensure this preparation, faculty members in health education training programs must examine their curricula to identify opportunities for students to develop skills for facilitating family involvement. …

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