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School health coalition to promote policies, programs and practices aimed at improving children’s health

A new, statewide coalition that will work collectively to improve children’s health in the school setting has been established by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, in partnership with Kentucky Voices for Health and Cairn Guidance.

The Coalition will work to promote policies, programs and practices that are shown to make measurable differences in children’s health — perhaps in such areas as nutrition, physical activity, substance use and mental health, said Foundation President and CEO Ben Chandler.

“The health and well-being of children and youth are the driving force for a healthier Kentucky in the future,” Chandler said in opening remarks at an all-day meeting on Sept. 10 in Lexington to establish the Coalition. “Children and youth spend a large portion of their lives in schools during ages when there are critical and rapid changes in their brains and bodies. So school is where we can achieve both health and education outcomes, each reinforcing the other.

“Schools are also an ideal place to address health and education inequities, and to offer children and youth the opportunity to foster their strengths, resiliency and potential.”

Rep. Kim Moser speaks at the School Health Coalition meeting. (Photo provided)

More than 100 participants representing advocacy organizations, schools, health insurance plans, Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, local public health agencies, local health coalitions, and state agencies from throughout the Commonwealth, were at the foundational meeting of the Coalition.

Throughout the day, participants discussed the importance of a collaborative advocacy approach to changing course on troublesome children’s health indicators in Kentucky, such as high rates of obesity, childhood trauma and substance use.

They made recommendations about the essential characteristics of the new coalition, including strong coordination among already existing coalitions and programs, and evidence-based and data-driven strategies. The meeting provided a collaborative, intersectoral analysis of the existing strengths the Commonwealth brings to address some of the challenges that were identified, such as the existing systems and programs to support children’s development.

Rep. Kim Moser, Chair of the Kentucky House Subcommittee on Health and Family Services, spoke to recent legislation affecting children’s health, such as the tobacco-free schools bill, in her remarks.

“Participants at the meeting imagined that, five years from now,” Chandler said, “we’ll see different kinds of news headlines about children’s health in Kentucky, such as ‘Kentucky Closes the Gaps: Leads in Improving Child Health.’ Or ‘One Team, Many Hands: Building Healthy Schools, Healthy Families, and Healthy Communities.'”

Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, spoke about to power of working together in a coalition, saying, “There is no doubt that together we have the expertise, the passion and the ability to make bold policy changes in schools and communities that will improve the health and wellness of our kids.”

Jessica Lawrence, Director of Cairn Guidance, added: “Kentucky has some amazing initiatives already happening in school health. The development of an advocacy coalition will help support the children’s health work by legislators, the Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Department of Public Health’s Coordinated School Health Team, the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child State Sub-Committee and KAHPERD’s Health Education Cadre.

“These groups work on the whole child through policies, programs and practices in the school setting and the formation of this coalition can further their work.”

The Foundation has been a leader in grantmaking efforts to improve the health of children and youth in the Commonwealth, with initiatives such as Investing in Kentucky’s Future (IKF), a six-year, $3 million initiative which led to 38 local policy changes and significant community enhancements to improve children’s health in seven counties around Kentucky.

“The Foundation recognizes childhood as a critical time to set a path for each person’s future, and policy changes to improve children’s health are the highest impact investment a society can make,” said Amalia Mendoza, lead staff from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to the new school health coalition. Mendoza also is the Foundation program officer who oversaw the IKF initiative.

The newly formed school health coalition will work closely with state agencies and the legislature to coordinate and raise awareness of the opportunity childhood offers to make significant changes in the health and well-being of Kentuckians.

The coalition will be led by a steering committee of representatives from key stakeholder groups. The first meeting, at which a name for the coalition and bylaws will be discussed, will be scheduled soon. For questions about the coalition or more information, please contact Amalia Mendoza at amendoza@healthy-ky.org or at (502) 326-2583.

From Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

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