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DPS pushing ambitious health agenda

Denver Public Schools officials are making one last push to get community feedback on the district’s proposed “Health Agenda 2015,” a blueprint to guide the allocation of school health dollars and resources for the next five years.

More than 1,000 people have taken a district survey on health-spending priorities since DPS released the draft plan on April 19. Officials will continue to collect feedback through Monday, then will start compiling findings to see if the draft, prepared by the district’s Health Advisory Committee, really reflects community wishes.

The final recommendations will be released in late August and the district will come up with an action plan for implementation by year’s end.

Barring any major revisions, this is what the plan looks like:

  • Dramatically increase participation in the free school breakfast program, from 30 percent up to 50 percent of students.
  • Ensure that students participate in scheduled physical education and recess, specifically by enacting a policy that prohibits schools from punishing disruptive or under-performing students by taking away those activities.
  • Increase the number of students who have health insurance, increase the hours that school nurses are available to students and increase the number of students served by school-based health centers.
  • Boost the hours that school social workers and psychologists are available in schools and teach “Signs of Suicide,” a proven suicide-prevention curriculum, to sixth- and ninth-graders.
  • Create a review process to approve programs, partnerships and curriculum related to health education.
  • Set up a comprehensive employee health promotion program to encourage teachers, principals and other staff to be healthy role models for students.
  • Implement Positive Behavior Support in all schools so that all adults in schools appropriately and consistently enforce consequences for bad behavior.
  • Get families and the community more involved in achieving the district’s health goals.

“We wanted to choose measures that schools alone could affect,” said Bridget Beatty, DPS coordinator of school and community health partnerships. “In a lot of areas, schools are a player but a lot also depends on what kids go home to. Like Body Mass Index. That’s a measure we didn’t include because there are so many complex socio-ecological factors in that. Schools play a part in determining a child’s BMI but so do many other things. But we do determine how we address physical education or how many students eat breakfast at school.”

In addition, the committee chose things that the district can feasibly accomplish within five years, Beatty said.

Kelsey Eikermann, a parent with children at Hamilton Middle School and University Park Elementary, sat on the subcommittee that drafted the recommendations involving physical education. She said the process was eye-opening for her.

“I was astonished at the wide range of how much P.E. our kids did or didn’t get,” she said. “At the lowest end, it was one day of P.E. every other week or something horrific like that.”

At University Park, the PTA pays half of the P.E. teacher’s salary, she said. “So my kid gets more P.E. because our neighborhood can afford to raise the money and pay for it.” She acknowledges that DPS can’t afford to make that level of physical education available at every school, but said at least the district can ensure no child loses whatever physical activity time is provided. “We can change the rules where kids won’t lose recess just because they didn’t do their spelling homework,” she said. “And we can be consistent about that across schools.”

Dr. Steven Federico, a pediatrician who is medical director at Denver Health Medical Center for the DPS School-Based Health Program, said he hopes what comes out of this process is focus. “When you don’t have a defined, focused agenda, there may be a tendency to build infrastructure based on opportunity rather than based on need,” he said. “We’re spread too thin for the resources we have. We have successful programs that we don’t build on enough.”

Some things obviously had to be left out. There’s nothing in the draft agenda about pregnancy prevention, for example, or sexually transmitted infections. Nothing about improving the quality of school lunches. Nothing about increasing physical education requirements.

“We do so many things and all had been proverbially equal,” Beatty explained. “Initially we started with 18 goals and the Health Advisory Council narrowed it down to 10.”

For more information

Click here to read the complete DPS Health Agenda 2015.

Click here to complete a DPS health goals survey. Deadline for completing the survey is May 31.

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