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|Parish school system targets student health|
The Ouachita Parish school system kicked off the new school year with a new plan to improve the health of students.
The coordinated school health initiative is a model developed by the national Center for Disease Control to improve children's health by bringing together schools, public health agencies, families and community leaders and integrating various strategies where kids would spend most of their time in schools.
To create its strategic health plan, the Ouachita Parish Schools first partnered with the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning to gather data and determine strengths and weaknesses surrounding six overarching issues: alcohol and drugs, obesity, school readiness, behavior, attendance and truancy and student health services.
From data analysis, Ouachita Parish Schools chose to focus on student health services due to an opportunity to provide more focused health services to targeted students. Ouachita Parish currently has a 73 percent kindergarten immunization rate.
The customized plan, which began implementation at the start of the 2009-10 school year, guides the school system in fully immunizing 100 percent of the kindergarten students at Riverbend Elementary, providing every student at the school with a yearly vision and hearing screening, and having students participate in physical and dental hygiene programs and an organized physical education program.
While the program is scheduled for piloting at Riverbend this year, Ouachita Parish Schools plans to expand the program to other schools in the future.
The district's plan for student health services also includes the implementation of a physical fitness assessment, which is designed to measure aerobic capacity, body mass composition and muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility.
The assessment provides personalized feedback and positive reinforcement to influence overall health and wellness, academics and behavior, as well as provide a source of communication between teachers, parents, students and the community.
Ouachita Parish is one of 12 parishes in Louisiana that has developed plans for coordinated school health. Twelve additional districts have been targeted to implement the health initiative, and by the end of 2010, more than one third of the school districts in the state will be implementing this health initiative.
"The health and well-being of our students is a top priority in our schools," said Ouachita Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber. "Through this endeavor, we are targeting students who may not otherwise receive these types of services. With successful collaboration and implementation, we hope to grow this initiative and directly impact the overall health of our community."
Dr. Billy R. Stokes, executive director of the Picard Center added, "This first year of development is very similar to the beginning of LA 4, Louisiana's nationally renowned pre-kindergarten program. In 2001, LA 4 took off in the state with 10 parishes, and now seven years later, the LA 4 program is in 93 percent of Louisiana school districts.
The implementation of this initiative in the 12 parishes has really been a coordinated effort between the Picard Center, Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Education, and the school districts."
The school district is also partnering with the Children's Coalition of Northeast Louisiana, Monroe Mental Health Center, and Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office to implement the coordinated school health initiative.