As the prime educators for their children, parents and guardians play an important role in shaping opportunities and outcomes for children and youth. [vi] And because of their powerful influence in schools, neighborhoods, and communities, parents and guardians can be catalysts towards school-wide wellness. SBHC professionals must make a positive connection with parents and guardians to increase their support for school-wide wellness.
Parents and guardians can be involved with school wellness efforts in a variety of ways; serving on your school wellness teams, providing consent for their children to participate in school-wide wellness efforts, and participating in school-wide family activities, workshops and programs. Parents and guardians can assist in program design and delivery–by providing volunteers, logistics support, and facilitating peer education for other parents and families. They can also promote awareness of school-based health services and advocate to school and district leaders, and local legislators for school-wide policies that promote health for all children. Hallways to Health sites engaged parents and guardians in family health events, parent education nights, and as volunteers to run student wellness clubs and activities.
Parents and guardians have high interests in keeping their children and youth health and safe; engage this key audience to:
- Influence and encourage healthy behaviors by serving as role models for their families.
- Influence teachers, principals, and school boards to ensure that policies and systems are in place to create a culture of health for their children and in the community.
- Connect their entire family to community resources, such as food and housing.
- Invite parents, guardians, and parent groups to participate as partners in school wellness teams and advisory committees so that they may provide input and feedback throughout school-wide wellness planning and implementation.
- Institute a process to obtain parental consents for children and youth to utilize SBHC services and to attend school-wide wellness programs like afterschool fitness and physical activity programs. At the beginning of the year, distribute packets with health center information and consent forms. [vi]
- Make parents feel safe and comfortable attending and sending their students to SBHC-sponsored events. Build trust by affirming your support for vulnerable students and families in relevant languages [vii], by displaying visuals indicating your school and SBHC are safe places for all students and families, by providing translation services to communicate with parents/guardians in their native language, and by providing thorough details when hosting events.
- Offer parent and family engagement nights and parent learning opportunities throughout the school year. Partner with parent volunteer groups (e.g. Parent Teacher Associations) to create family-centered school wellness programs like health fairs, dance nights, walkathons, and access to healthy foods when school is not in session.
- To increase participation and meet parent needs, release a full schedule of parent/family events early in the year. Conduct events and programs during convenient times for working parents. [vi] Where possible, provide food, transportation, and childcare during adult education opportunities.
3. Utilize parent/guardians as volunteers to provide in-kind support for school-wide wellness efforts.
Parents can promote neighborhood safety, student social and emotional wellbeing, and physical activity by coaching “Girls on the Run” clubs and creating walking school buses for students who are not eligible for school bussing.
Stories from the Field
At Rice Elementary School, Chula Vista, CA the California Healthy Kids Survey demonstrated that a quarter (24 percent) of students did not feel safe most or all of the time due to rumors and bullying behavior. The SBHC professionals advocated for additional mental health services, and collaborated with the sponsor organization’s mental health department psychologists to empower parents to take action. The psychologists offered parent education nights on child behavior and demonstrated healthy communication skills to model at home with youth. To address family needs, Rice Family Health Center also brought other agencies and dedicated personnel into the SBHC periodically to assist parents with applications for SNAP, MediCal, and other social service programs.
At Lake Forest Elementary School, Sandy Springs, GA an ongoing collaboration with Safe Routes to School addresses bullying incidences on students’ way to and from school. The school wellness team convened meetings with community-based organizations and parents to overcome barriers to health and safety on the way to school. This community-based engagement strategy increased awareness of the safety issue within the community and mobilized a parent group to strategize around safety and join students on walks to school. As a result, the Assistant Principal acknowledged a decrease in bullying-related referrals to the office.
At Northwood High School SBHC, Silver Spring, MD the clinicians instituted a practice of asking parents and guardians about their own social determinants of health when they accompany their students for physicals. SBHC staff members conduct food insecurity screens with these parents to identify unmet social needs and connect families with local resources as necessary.
To boost parent support for the after-school Fitness Club at Rea Elementary School, Costa Mesa, CA the SBHC staff sends enrollment forms home with students. Additionally, the Padres in Accion program utilizes parent volunteers to lead exercise and nutrition programs for students during recess and lunch playtime.