How can technology improve our ability to provide a safe school, viewed through the lens of physical health and wellness? Our children are the future, and in order to ensure that students are able to learn and engage in the classroom, we need to focus on physical health and wellness. EdTech can play a powerful role in facilitating better physical health and wellness through better communication, better access to student data, and better decision-making.
Physical Health and Wellness Issues that Impact School Safety
Physical health and wellness is a broad category. It includes proper nutrition, physical activity, stress, vaccinations, managing illness outbreaks, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, truancy, failure to graduate, and more. Our data has shown that schools don’t place a high enough priority on physical health and wellness, either because school administrators don’t realize there are issues, or they feel the issues are too overwhelming and don’t know where to start in addressing the problems. The biggest issues in physical health and wellness that impact school safety are centered on communication, absenteeism, and illness.
Communication Challenges that Impact Physical Health and Wellness
“Communication is foundational to establish the right culture,” said Ravi Gorur, CEO of ZippSlip. Communication with the community, the students, and the administration helps schools manage everything from contagious outbreaks to proactive prevention. Schools can find it difficult to engage with the community if they don’t have a comprehensive communication plan and the technology in place to disseminate information. Large schools may struggle to communicate with families for whom English is not the first language; other districts rely on their emergency communication systems to deliver all messages, desensitizing the community to the importance of even paying attention to the messages. Sometimes, both parents are working and simply don’t have the time to engage with the method of communication being used. The end result is whole swaths of folks in the community not connected to the school.
How to solve the communication problem and improve physical health and wellness: Establish a narrative with the community about health & wellness. Be proactive. The community can be an incredible force for positive change and engaging with diverse communities or larger districts can be overwhelming,” added Gorur. “But it can be done and needs to be driven by school district. We have been able to achieve 90%+ engagement across all demographics with the right tools and technology.” To improve communication, you need to start by assessing your current communication system and plan, identifying the gaps and needs, and finding technology that can help fill those gaps.
Absenteeism and the Role of Student Data in Physical Health and Wellness
Student data plays a critical role in physical health and wellness, including improving attendance rates and suicide prevention. “School districts have a plethora of data that isn’t really mined,” said John Vandenwalle, CEO at Lumen Touch. By better mining student data, Lumen Touch has been able to help districts identify not only rates of absenteeism but reasons for it. They worked with a very large of school district of 30,000 students that had 19% absentee rate. In looking for correlations and discovered that 4% of absences were being caused by students with asthma. “We were able to determine that the way asthma was being classified and treated by the school caused the absences. There were no medical protocols in place. We worked with the school and local medical providers to establish protocols and were able to reduce absenteeism reduced by 4%.”
How to use student data to improve physical health and wellness: Integrate technology, creating a long-term strategic plan that addresses wellness including suicide. By using data to track attendance – not just daily attendance but trends over time – schools can more proactively address lingering issues. “We can track attendance for students from the minute that start school – when something changes, we can identify what’s happening before it’s a big impact,” said Vandenwalle. “GG4L is critical to this effort because the data repository allows us to provide data to districts, school boards, teachers, and even students. You can even put data in for predictive analytics.”
Better Stress and Illness Management through Proactive Action
“When we place an emphasis on proactivity – preventing health issues from occurring in the first place – we can improve physical health and wellness as well as overall school safety, said Dave Smith, CEO of SAFE Steps. “We know eight out of 10 students feel school is a stress issue. When we focus on programs that reduce stress, we see better wellness and better academic achievement.” Communication to both students and parents is essential, and that means leveraging technology that can facilitate the communication among all stakeholders. From notifying parents about a flu outbreak to alerting the cafeteria about a student who has a nut allergy so that they don’t eat the wrong thing for lunch, technology makes it easier to track, monitor, and communicate the day-to-day wellness issues that impact school safety.
How to improve physical health and wellness using EdTech: Start by assessing how your school is currently addressing physical health and wellness. Identify the gaps. Ask the questions: how are you engaging your community? How are you tracking attendance? How are you protecting students with allergies and other medical issues? What kind of protocols do you have in place? Does everyone have access to the information? Would the right technology make it all easier?
We recognize that schools will only use technology it is saves them time, makes them more efficient, or makes students safer. That’s why GG4L, a global membership-based collaborative is dedicated to catalyzing school improvement through the deployment of purpose-built, evidence-based, EDtech ecosystems. Our mission is to help schools deploy validate and sustain innovative EdTech solutions and provide on-demand grants to schools to help them try EdTech solutions for free.
You can to listen to our recent webinar on Physical Health and Wellness, part of our Safer Schools in America Webinar series.