AISD prepares students for a lifetime of wellness

Published On September 17, 2015 | September/October 2015
By Jon Black

Austin is a community that places great value on quality of life, including health and wellness. The Austin Independent School District (AISD) understands this and seeks to reflect community values in its policy. AISD is striving to keep its policies, faculty, and students at the cutting edge of health and wellness education with a coordinated school health approach that emphasizes the interconnectedness of health education; physical education; health services; counseling and mental health; a safe school environment; staff wellness promotion; nutrition services; and parent and community involvement.

Health in schools doesn’t mean just physical education and athletics anymore. Just as schools provide students with knowledge to help them find success in the workplace and become good citizens, they also seek to teach lessons which will enable children to make wise choices about their health and wellness as adults. For children, families and schools, there are more immediate payoffs as well. Students in good health are more likely to attend school frequently and get better grades. Healthy students are also less likely to engage in inappropriate behavior or find themselves in in-school suspension.

Since 2001, the centerpiece of AISD’s efforts to foster student health and wellness at the K-8 level is the Coordinated Approach to Childhood Health (CATCH) platform. An integrated program focusing on all aspects of childhood health and wellness, CATCH is one of the oldest and most reputable coordinated school health programs − with more than a quarter century of data supporting its effectiveness. Currently, CATCH is utilized by more than 10,000 schools and communities nationwide, including nearly 300 in Texas. CATCH’s goals include promoting student enjoyment of and participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity, getting students and families involved in healthy eating and physical activity, providing teachers with tools that blend health topics with core academic areas, and improving the nutritional quality of school meals by linking good food to good health.

According to a 2013 report, CATCH appears to be having a beneficial impact on AISD middle school students. It cited an increase in moderate to vigorous physical activity during PE as well as increased student participation in organized sports, both inside and outside of school, as well as other structured PE activities. The report highlighted the popularity of CATCH “family nights” – health fairs that promote hands-on, active learning activities such as taste-testing, active games, and messaging to promote healthy eating and physical activity. An increase in healthy dietary habits, including increased water consumption, and decreased consumption of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages was also noticed.

While CATCH is the centerpiece, it is only one part of AISD’s health and wellness strategy. The Fitnessgram program conducts regular physical fitness assessments of the district’s students. Elementary students are assessed at the beginning and end of every school year; middle and high school students at the beginning and end of every semester.

Elementary students are required to have 45 minutes of PE every third day. Middle school students must have four semesters of PE (or an approved substation, such as athletics dance or JROTC), including at least one semester per year. At the high school level, students must earn a 1.0 PE credit to graduate. This may come from classes such as Foundations of Personal Fitness, Aerobics and Conditioning, participating in individual or team sports, as well as a number of approved substitutions for other physically vigorous classes or activities. AISD understands that not every child is the same and the district has a robust and proactive Adapted Physical Education program. This program serves the PE and wellness needs of students with particular physical conditions or developmental delays and their families. Currently, the district has 11 full-time adapted PE teachers, covering elementary, middle, and high schools.

School is only part of a child’s life. For healthy behaviors to take root, lessons learned in the classroom need to be reinforced by those outside of school. The district actively seeks to engage parents and other members of the community in promoting youth health and wellness. AISD makes a number of online resources available to parents, including information on topics such as health services available through AISD, nutritional information (including information and costs for AISD meals), and links to local groups and programs encouraging active, healthy lifestyles.

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