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West Chester University Launches Center for Healthy Schools

January 13, 2012

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Recent debates in Congress over what should be included in school lunches don't take into account the importance of students' overall health to learning and achieving. According to a West Chester University health educator, nutrition plays an important role in learning.

"Equally important are children's attitudes and behaviors related to fitness, substance use, intentional and unintentional injuries, sexuality, mental and emotional health, and social well-being," says Bethann Cinelli, director of the newly established Center for Healthy Schools at West Chester University.

"A truly 'healthy school' takes into account the whole child and is a learning environment where everyone appreciates the direct link between students' health and academic success."

While initiatives in other states or through other organizations cover specific aspects of children's health such as obesity, asthma, drug use or bullying, the Center at West Chester focuses on all aspects of children's mental, emotional, social and physical health, as well as the learning environment itself.

In the interest of linking children's health with their education, the Center has teamed up with 11 school districts in the Philadelphia region plus health and education agencies in Pennsylvania, engaging school administrators, teachers, staff, prevention partners and parents to promote the importance of healthy schools and academic achievement.

By consolidating resources and creating partnerships, the Center will be a state-wide clearinghouse for research and data related to health and learning, policy and advocacy for creating healthy school communities. It will become a connector for supporting the alignment of a health-promoting school, community and family environment. Implementation of programs will follow the creation of the center's strategic plan, expected this January.

A cornerstone of the Center is professional development for school health coordinators and community prevention partners such as the Chester County Health Department, Communities That Care, United Way of Chester County, Planned Parenthood, Brandywine Health Foundation, and Holcomb Behavioral Health. The center conducted one such program in July for school health leaders. Participants from nine regional schools or districts including the School District of Philadelphia and districts in Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Berks counties networked, learned about state and federal policies, and discussed the challenges of promoting nutrition and healthy habits on small budgets.

Similar training opportunities are proposed for parents and students to help them develop the skills they need to advocate for and create healthy school communities.

For more information visit the Center fo Healthy Schools website.

Cinelli is chair of the University’s Department of Health and director of the Center for Healthy Schools. Until the Center adopted the American Cancer Society Pennsylvania School Health Leadership Institute this year, she had been one of the Institute’s lead consultants and co-director. She joined the West Chester faculty in 1987 after earning her B.S. from Indiana University of Pennsylvania; her M.Ed. from Temple University; and her D.Ed. from Pennsylvania State University.