Today is the last day of the Weight of the Nation conference here in Washington, DC. I’m beginning my day at a session called “Raising a Healthy Generation One School at a Time.” The panel (this conference is all panels) includes Jessica Donzes Black from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, who has a student-driven program called empowerME; Howell Wechsler, the head of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the CDC, which funds my work at the the WA state Dep’t of Health; and Robert Bisceglie, who is with Action for Healthy Kids, which runs a student-driven program called Students Taking Charge, and for whom I am the co-chair of WA’s team.
This is yet another session where we’re hearing about students without actually having students involved, either as speakers or participants. Let me be clear that I’m not entirely against that; rather, I challenge that by routinely excluding young people from these conversations we’re broadcasting our true intentions. In this case it is clear that we, as the adult decision-makers and implementers of obesity programs in schools, intend to do *for* students, not *with* them.
Of all people, after almost 10 years of working and partnering with WA’s state education agency and K-12 schools across the country, I understand that is the norm in schools. However, in the field of public health there seems to be a frequent awareness about equity. Our outreach to students must incorporate student/adult partnerships and youth/adult equity as a primary mode of operation.
Healthy schools are more than beacons of physical fitness and nutrition. Instead, they’re safe and supportive and engaging environments that systematically seek to grow and expand the relationships all learners have with learning. Engaging students as partners is the key to creating those places. Research has shown the outcomes go beyond obesity and get to the core of healthy choices, healthy lifestyles and other steps to successful students and lifelong learners, not to mention active democrats and civic agents. Why are we waiting?