Daniel A. Domenech
Executive Director, School Superintendents Association (AASA)
As school leaders across the country welcome students into classrooms for the start of the school year, they know the most important task ahead isn’t teaching the “3 Rs,” but ensuring all children are healthy and safe at school.
Connect and empower
A healthy, safe and supportive learning environment empowers students, adults, the school district and community to work together in meaningful ways. Superintendents, principals, teachers and all school staff must create an environment that is welcoming to every student. These individuals must also foster a sense of shared community among children that often speak multiple languages and come from different backgrounds, cultures and religions.
The individual health of school children is critical to their ability to learn, develop skills and thrive. Children who are hungry, suffering from untreated issues or unable to attend school will not be able to absorb the innovative teaching practices that schools work hard to deliver. Schools are confronted with the realities of children who have a diverse set of needs and are challenged (but capable) to meet those needs.
Universal free breakfast offers each student a healthy start to the day. School nurses and school-based health centers can offer direct medical attention. Linking students to health insurance through Medicaid and CHIP can provide ongoing and preventive care for eligible children. More and more schools are working to incorporate counseling and other family services on-site to support students and their families. Meeting the health and wellness needs of children, families and staff helps children learn, schools succeed and communities thrive.
Build a safe space
Guaranteeing school safety and a sound physical environment — including structural integrity, indoor air quality, environmental health, and physical safety and security — are also key tasks for superintendents and school staff. To ensure readiness for all situations, school teams should review and update their school safety and emergency response plans to ensure they meet current needs and should share significant aspects of those plans with parents and families.
Creating a safe and supportive learning environment for students requires constant attention to the security and safety of the facilities, clear policies and procedures for student and staff conduct, and effective communication with parents, families and the school community.