Virtual schools can do harm. As we prepare for the fall, we must remember this. | | Opinion


By Erin Comollo, Peggy Policastro, Faith Qualshie

We are finishing the first year of school after lockdown, and there is a lot of talk of concern that academic progress will be lost in the virtual school year.

But as child health professionals, we are equally concerned about how virtual schools undermine children’s health and self-sufficiency. essential for teaching the skills needed to We have to do better as we start planning for the next school year.

First of all, we can see clear and compelling evidence that regular direct contact with school staff plays an important role in the overall health of children.

A study conducted last year by the Centers for Disease Control found that children and their parents who attended full or partial online schooling scored higher than 17 stress and well-being indicators compared to children who attended face-to-face school. It was 11 points inferior.

“Children and their parents who do not receive direct supervision may be at increased risk of adverse mental, emotional, or physical health effects,” the study concludes.

This gap comes after a pandemic that put children’s health at risk. At least 12 million people nationwide have been infected with the virus, and it is still too early to know how many may develop “long COVID” or other persistent symptoms. Children were also injured. One study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that stress on parents and reduced access to health care meant that babies born during the pandemic “did not improve in language, exercise, and a significant decline in overall cognitive performance.” Another study in China reported similar results.

All of these problems were exacerbated by the lack of access to in-person school resources. School lunches, for all intents and purposes, can be the healthiest meal your child eats for the day, or the only one with fresh ingredients. We conduct physical and nutritional literacy lessons for children in public schools as part of the New Jersey Health Kids Initiative, a program at Rutgers University funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. increase.

A recent class exercise asked a group of eighth graders to list the fresh fruits and vegetables they have eaten in the past three days. Looking back on the meals they ate at home, many could not remember even one.

The sedentary and closed nature of virtual schools sets many children back when it comes to developing healthy fitness habits. of people did not report regular physical activity.

The whole child health stool has three legs: nutrition, fitness and mental health. Children need all three he needs to grow up, and he needs school to access them.

In today’s society where both parents often work, school is often a primary source of learning for children on how to stay healthy. We deeply sympathize with the concerns of teachers who are being asked to do more with less resources and at no extra cost. However, we strongly believe that schools cannot simply “do less”.

Instead, we need to provide these schools with the resources they need to provide a holistic education. Schools have always included education on how to live a full, prosperous and healthy life, not just teaching letters and numbers. Schools know this, and that’s why they teach art and music, and why they have sports teams and drama clubs. So even though they used to teach basic self-sufficient skills like cooking and mending clothes, many of these classes have disappeared.

When these skills are presented in a school environment, the results are immediate and tangible. In our experience, children are hungry for this knowledge. I’ve seen children of all ages light up when they’re first exposed to the simple magic of cooking with fresh ingredients.

Our experience is not unique. In his 2018 study at the University of Illinois, which reviewed his studies of six different childhood nutrition programs across the United States, he found that “Culinary interventions for children in schools have been associated with improving cooking skills and promoting healthy eating.” consumption, and (height and weight) assessment.

Studies show that integrating the teaching of these skills into the regular curriculum and school feeding programs would also help. Working parents need more time to cook fresh meals and teach their children how to do the same. Children need these lessons at school because there is no

The efforts of nonprofits like ours, while meaningful, are not enough. This kind of education should be included in public school curricula and appropriately funded by the government.

When you offer food to your child, you need to make sure it is healthy food. When providing counseling, it should be accessible to all children. When we offer physical education, it must teach the physical education skills necessary to build a healthy life.

Children are not okay. But schools can help.

Dr. Erin Comollo New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative (NJHKI) Rutgers University Food, Nutrition and Health Institute.

Dr. Peggy Policastro is Director of Behavioral Nutrition at Rutgers’ New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health and Director of NJHKI Culinary Literacy and Nutrition.

Faith Qualshie is a program coordinator for NJHKI and a 10 year veteran guidance counselor in a public school.

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