To Bonnie Edmondson, a world-ranked Olympic athlete and program coordinator of the School Health Education Program at Southern, the support systems in place for Olympic-level athletes are no different than those needed by today’s students — and she’s not alone in her thinking. Nationwide, health education policy is gaining traction, and it means an increase in demand for qualified professionals in the field.
“Athletes have family, coaches, and doctors on their team ensuring that their physical, social, and emotional needs are met,” Edmondson says. “The goals of health education work in the same way, to make sure students have the knowledge, skills, and behaviors to be successful in all that they do. Students have to be ready to learn in order to reach their maximum potential.”
More importantly, in Edmondson’s opinion, “Students need to understand why they need to make healthy choices.” For instance, “Children need a healthy lifestyle in order to learn, but physical education is just one piece of that,” Edmondson says. “Students need to understand why the physical activity is important.”
Health education addresses that why; much like school nutrition, it has garnered governmental support. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) coordinated school whole health (CSH) approach has steered Connecticut schools in the development and implementation of health-promoting policies, processes, and practices. Recognizing the need for enhanced collaboration between school education, public health, and school health sectors, the CDC and ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), recently expanded and merged the CSH model with tenets of the ASCD’s whole child approach to inform a new “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC)” model, which seeks to “to engage students, families, staff, and the community-at-large to improve the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development of every child.”
In short, everyone is getting on board to positively affect student health, from top to bottom. For those passionate about this comprehensive wellness, Southern’s Master of Science degree in school health education teaches students to actively connect family, school, and community. It also prepares graduates for leadership roles in the field because, although data indicate a clear link between student health and achievement, oftentimes schools aren’t equipped to take on the task.
“Health education has evolved,” Edmondson says. “It’s not just about regurgitating facts, it’s about affecting behaviors, so preparing our health educators to be able to address these needs, it’s a significant paradigm shift.”
It’s also a timely shift.
“For the first time, Connecticut has outlined in its guidelines to school districts that health education and physical education are viable content areas for federal support,” Edmondson says. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, identifies both school health and physical education as part of a student’s well-rounded education. And new Connecticut legislation mandates that this year, all incoming high school freshmen must have one health education credit in order to graduate. In light of this new state requirement, additional health educators will be needed.
“Many high need districts are integrating whole student policies,” Edmondson says. “There’s more and more need for leaders in the field to be vocal advocates in our communities, for graduates to become ambassadors to field.”
Southern’s Master of Science degree in school health education arms graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to lead, coordinate, teach, and advocate for school health education programs in grades pre-K through 12. The skills are also applicable in community-based settings.
“This is an incredible time for us,” Edmondson says. “Southern’s Master of Science degree in school health education caters to teachers and coordinators in this field. We’re cultivating future leaders and practitioners.”
Edmondson is a two-time national champion and former world-ranked hammer thrower, a participant on expert panels, and a peer reviewer for numerous publications and journals.