By Jamie Sparks | January 15, 2019
School Health Program Manager, ETR
The current school year is historic. Every state has shifted away from the federal education accountability mandates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and towards state-created measures aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
For those of us who have worked diligently for decades to promote and prioritize school health, this offers a “giant step” opportunity. Even in states that haven’t specifically addressed school health measures in their ESSA plan, conversations around educational priorities are shifting.
Key to this is the fact that health education is identified in ESSA as one of the subjects essential to a well-rounded education. This makes health education eligible for federal funding via the Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the first time ever!
Since ESSA officially passed Congress in 2015, I have spoken countless times about how significant this is for both health and physical education in schools. Student health inequity has been an all-too-common reality for schools as a result of the high stakes accountability mindset produced by the NCLB era. Tremendous focus was placed on English language arts and math, while humanities, the arts and health were neglected.
The analogy that best resonates with wellness advocates is trying to push and move a giant rock—a rock so big that no matter what we say or do, it simply won’t budge.
Many school wellness champions have experienced this. Educational accountability (the rock) has been so enormous at times, no amount of research demonstrating the importance of healthy students has been enough to move the rock. Back in 2011, in a series of research articles in a special issue of Journal of School Health on “Healthier Students are Better Learners,” Dr. Charles Basch urged schools to focus on reducing educationally relevant health disparities as an effective strategy to reduce the achievement gap.
But no matter what the research said, or what administrators believed, federal mandates demanded a focus on reading and math. Superintendents and principals were unable to move the rock by arguing that healthy students learn better. Schools that did not meet test score standards faced dire consequences. It was difficult to keep health education forward under the NCLB mandates.
I have just come on board at ETR, and I am so excited to join the team in 2019! Today’s education stage is different. Schools are able and ready to reimagine what they want to do for students and rethink how they deliver on their goals.
There is an abundance of research demonstrating the linkages between health and learning. These are far more relevant today thanks to conversations from ESSA defining a well-rounded education. The concept of creating learning environments designed to meet the needs of the whole child is less of a dream and more of a reality now. At the core of the new federal education law is a genuine, research-driven emphasis on every student succeeding!
ETR has been ahead of the curve for nearly three decades. They have been innovating, designing and developing science-based resources and products to improve health and increase opportunities for youth, families and communities. These are qualities I’ve long admired in my previous roles as a classroom health and PE teacher, Project Director for the Kentucky DOE Coordinated School Health Initiative, with the Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD) and serving on the board of the American School Health Association. In other words, I was an ETR fan long before I actually joined the team.
Thanks to ESSA, the education world is now fertile ground for promoting ETR’s mission to advance health equity, and strengthening its longstanding commitment to outstanding school health programs. I can’t wait to get started!
Jamie Sparks, MA, has just joined ETR as our new School Health Program Manager. With his extensive school health experience at local, state and national levels, he brings extraordinary strength to our team. We are thrilled to have him join our mission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.