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The link between education and student health

The No.1 priority for any school leader is to keep students safe and engaged in school.

Learning is a big part of that. Students have to feel connected to the subject matter. But they also have to feel healthy and confident at home and in their personal lives.

Writing for Education Dive, student health expert Charles E. Mendez III draws a bright line between academic success and student health and wellbeing.

Mendez cites research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows that when students feel more connected to their school, they tend to be healthier and more academically successful. They also are less likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol or to engage in violence.

So what’s the secret to creating stronger connections between students and school?

Mendez says the key is engagement—be it with families, communities, or fellow students. Specifically, he outlines four key factors:

Adult support
This might sound like a no-brainer. But that doesn’t make it any less important.

Students need support and respect from adult leaders in school, especially from teachers. Mendez says school administrators should empower teachers to develop trusting relationships with students.

He also points to a need for strong parent involvement from home.

Writes Mendez: “In the ideal learning environment, families are actively involved in the education process, which means schools would need to adapt to varied schedules.”

That requires a shared sense of responsibility between parents and educators.

This means communicating in the ways that are most effective—whether it be one-on-one meetings, emails, even social media. It also means training parents to better support student learning from home.

Positive peer groups
Peer pressure is real and educators can use that to help students.

Writes Mendez: “Students with strong social skills and decision-making abilities will align with others who value education and healthy social interaction. They are less likely to be swayed by negative peer influence when they are part of a stable, positive group.”

Encourage students who exhibit healthy lifestyles to reach out to students who are struggling or in need of positive support. Facilitate conversations between students from different backgrounds and circumstances.

Commitment to education
To feel truly connected to school, students have to take ownership of their learning.

Students who feel pride for their schoolwork, challenge themselves to do better, and students who feel engaged in their learning are less likely to engage in dangerous or risky behavior outside of school.

But students can’t always be counted on to make those connections on their own.

Mendez suggests schools organize tutoring programs, academic competitions, and other events to encourage students to commit to their education.

School environment
Mendez suggests that schools should be more focused on “teachable moments” rather than penalizing students for bad behavior. Encouraging positive behavior goes a long way toward making students feel more connected.

Explains Mendez: “Feelings of responsibility and ownership develop when students believe their opinions are valued and incorporated into management of the school and classrooms.”

What steps do you take to make families and students feel more connected and engaged in school? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for an easy way to engage parents and students in important conversations. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.