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Coordinate programs to improve students' health
By Ashley Crawford
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi public schools are discovering the many benefits of health programs with the help of an organization dedicated to improving the lives of youth.
The Mississippi Alliance for School Health is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote coordinated school health programs in Mississippi public schools. Partnering agencies include the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Mississippi Department of Health, the Department of Education and others. The Alliance works with many groups and the legislature to improve the overall school experience for Mississippi children.
"Many schools struggle to provide basic health needs such as physical activity breaks, adequate restroom breaks and good nutrition. In most schools, access to mental health counseling and assistance with health needs during the school day are not provided consistently," said Linda Patterson, health education specialist with the MSU Extension Service. "MASH promotes the coordination of education with these essential elements of mental and physical development because they are the key to learning."
One goal is to provide a high quality, multi-disciplinary school health conference each year, such as one in Biloxi June 6 through 8.
Pat Clemen, school health coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Health, said MASH promotes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's model for school health. In this model, eight components address the school environment, community involvement, health education, nutrition services, physical education, healthcare access, counseling and psychological services, and health promotion for staff.
"MASH can form an alliance with the public school districts and administrators to advance coordinated school health programs," Clemen said. "These programs can enhance a student's health and emotional well-being by working on all of the eight components of school health."
Pat Cooper, president of the Alliance and superintendent of the McComb school district, said schools with coordinated health programs experience a decline in discipline problems and dropout rates, and an increase in attendance and test scores. Thus far, McComb is the only Mississippi school district with the complete program.
"Other school districts have portions of a coordinated school health program, but in McComb, the program addresses all eight components and provides the people and resources necessary to offer health services to students," Cooper said. "The Alliance is working hard to encourage comprehensive health programs in all Mississippi schools."
The Mississippi Alliance for School Health began in 1993 as a joint effort between the state's departments of health and education to raise awareness about how students' health affects their school performance. The Alliance includes 35 state, local and private organizations whose missions include advocacy, professional and legislative education, community partnerships, policy formation and school health programs.
"The partnerships are instrumental in carrying out projects and securing funds," Clemen said. "The MSU Extension Service became involved because they share many goals of the member organizations. The Extension Service is a vital partner because of its local presence in multiple school health programs, such as 4-H, indoor air quality and asthma education."
A goal of the Extension Service's Family Nutrition Program is to teach family nutrition in schools.
"Since nutrition is one component of the Alliance, our partnership helped to make the organization even stronger," said Brent Fountain, Extension Family Nutrition Program coordinator. "Cooperative efforts always make groups stronger. We each have a role to play."
This year, the Alliance partners worked together to raise awareness of the need for physical activity breaks for young children. Public awareness led to legislation allowing public school students in grades kindergarten through six to have 30 minutes of daily physical activity.
"The passage of this bill is just one example of what can happen with a strong partnership," Fountain said.
Membership in MASH is open to anyone interested in supporting the coordinated school health model in Mississippi. For more information, contact Pat Clemen at (601) 576-7781 or visit the website www.mashonline.org.