Articles by Daniela Espinosa

Involving families in schools: addressing opportunities and challenges

It is common sense that family involvement in schools is essential to increasing student achievement.  Research also suggests it reduces risky behaviors and improves attitudes about school among students.

However, family involvement in schools doesn’t always come easy.  For one, schools and parents often have a different understanding of what that involvement should look like.  In addition, there can be cultural and language barriers and other issues such as lack of knowledge about how the school system works that make it difficult to get families involved.  So what can school board members do to seize opportunities and address challenges to involving families in schools?

A new National School Boards Association (NSBA) publication, Families as Partners: Fostering Family Engagement for Healthy and Successful Students, presents an interesting suggestion.   According to the publication, from a school district perspective, family engagement in health issues can be an excellent first step toward getting families involved in schools as they are often more willing to address health issues than potentially intimidating academic issues.  In fact, a recently published Center for Public Education (CPE) document shows a similar thread and relays that an effective means to getting families at the door can be a targeted involvement to solve a particular problem – like poor attendance or behavior.

At first it can seem overwhelming to involve families in schools as families comes with differing views and expectations regarding the school system and their children’s learning.  But the benefits outweigh the challenges and ultimately improve student achievement!  So in thinking of ways to address challenges and seize opportunities to involving families, BoardBuzz would like you to check out some important strategies outlined in the documents above:

  • Recognize that all families, regardless of income, education, or cultural background are involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well;
  • Investigate how families want to be involved and how teachers want families to be involved;
  • Address family involvement through a coordinated school health framework, which includes a family involvement component;
  • Foster district-wide strategies including reviewing policies and procedures to effectively engage families;
  • Ask what families need to know to be involved and how well your district and schools are meeting those needs;
  • Build the capacity of your board and staff to strengthen family engagement; and
  • Continue to survey or track the effects of involvement.

To learn more about steps to take to accomplish some of those strategies, view Families as Partners.  In addition, check out NSBA’s new Family Engagement in School Health webpage to access relevant resources such as sample policies, surveys, and tools created by NSBA to help school leaders better engage families.

How is your school district addressing family involvement?  What have been some of the outcomes?  Drop us a comment!

Daniela Espinosa|October 7th, 2011|Categories: Wellness, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , |

Respect: Not just a word, but a behavior

BoardBuzz is pleased that NSBA has endorsed “No Name-Calling Week” which is taking place this week, from January 24-28.  By observing this event, schools across the country will foster the important and essential message of “respect for all.”  

In a press release about the week, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight and Education Network’s (GLSEN) Executive Director Eliza Byard soberly alerts us to the fact that “bullying is a public health crisis in this country.”  As shown in a 2005 Harris Interactive report commissioned by GLSEN, 47 percent of junior/middle high school students identified bullying, name-calling or harassment as a somewhat serious or very serious problem at their school.  Additionally, 69 percent of junior/middle high school students reported being assaulted or harassed in the previous year.  Notably, bullying, among other problems, results in lower academic achievement as kids who are bullied are often absent from school and/or cannot pay attention to class.

These data are alarming, to say the least, and recent reports of bullying-related suicides makes all of this even more troubling.  However, all around the country, many schools are already stepping up to the plate to improve bullying policies and BoardBuzz wants to applaud that effort. 

In GLSEN’s press release, Byard states that “through programs like No Name-Calling Week, we know we can make schools safer and more affirming for everyone.” The event is in its eighth year and has become one of the most used and celebrated bullying prevention programs in the country. 

BoardBuzz hopes this is not just “one more event to be honored,” but rather that schools will address bullying in effective ways and that respect be not only a word that is thrown around classrooms and school hallways, but that it be a permanent behavior adopted by students, teachers, and school staff alike. 

Daniela Espinosa|January 26th, 2011|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Schools and public health departments: partnering for success

While school leaders and other BoardBuzz readers are busy making sure students are performing well academically and able to graduate from high school, you might not realize that public health departments are doing the same.


Research shows that the more education one has, the healthier that person is. Not only that, but also that being healthy is essential for being able to learn and obtain education.  Makes sense, right?

Some of you BoardBuzz readers may already know that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released Healthy People 2020, the nation’s new 10-year goals and objectives for health promotion and disease prevention, which aims for a society in which all people live long, healthy lives. 

You may be asking yourselves two questions:

1) Have setting such objectives produced any results in the past?

2) What role can the education community play in this?

The answer to the first question is that preliminary analyses conducted in the last decade show that the country has either progressed toward or met 71 percent of its Healthy People targets – both exciting and positive news! 

The answer to the second question is that one of the Healthy People 2020 objectives is is increasing the educational achievement of adolescents (including high school completion) and school leaders are already working hard to achieve that goal. Again, within this context, not only is it important for the education community to understand that in order to increase student achievement schools need to implement policies and practices that keep youth healthy, but also that high school completion in itself is essential to people living healthy adult lives.

In addition, Healthy People 2020 has a number of new topic areas that are relevant to schools including:  Early and Middle Childhood; Adolescent Health; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health; Preparedness; and Sleep Health and that schools are well positioned to help the nation with such issues because they serve millions of children and adolescents and their communities on a daily basis. 

So how exactly can schools help children and youth be healthy and ready to learn while also helping achieve national efforts related to the Healthy People objectives? For one, schools can work with their local health departments – try knocking on their door, and maybe they’ll also be trying to knock on yours!  To learn more how to partner with health departments, check out this publication released by the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors last year. 

Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of a coordinated school health (CSH) model, which includes eight interrelated components such as health education, nutrition services, and a healthy and safe environment.  The CDC has recently expanded its CSH website to include frequently asked questions about CSH, key goals, a model framework for planning, strategies for implementing and evaluating a coordinated approach to school health, fact sheets on the status of school health policies and practices, among other relevant items. 

And if you need more information on steps you can take to promote school health, contact NSBA’s School Health Programs at

Daniela Espinosa|January 12th, 2011|Categories: Wellness, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

World AIDS Day: not a time to be complacent

Today, December 1, 2010 is World AIDS Day.  In observing this day, BoardBuzz wants to remind its readers that, although there have been great strides in the prevention of HIV/AIDS (just last week there was an announcement on a breakthrough prevention measure), the world is still experiencing an epidemic of the disease.  And, despite strong advances also with HIV/AIDS treatment, 25 million people have died due to the disease since the first cases started being reported in 1981.

This disease has had much impact among youth in the U.S. in the past few years, especially those of minority races and ethnicities.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2004 alone, an estimated 4,883 young people received a diagnosis of HIV infection or AIDS, representing about 13% of the persons given a diagnosis during that year. 

What makes young people vulnerable to HIV infection?  Well, several factors such as early age at sexual initiation, substance abuse, and lack of awareness.  In addition, poverty and dropping out of school.  Such data speak of the importance of coordinated school health approaches within schools, where kids can have access to valuable health information as well as services.  And also of policies and practices that help kids stay in school, which help equip students with skills to enter the workforce successfully and promote their learning of lifelong healthy behaviors. 

BoardBuzz believes that World AIDS Day marks a time to not be complacent, but rather proactive.  It’s a moment to celebrate progress, but ponder what still needs to be accomplished.  NSBA is here to help school leaders navigate such issues.  A few years ago, NSBA published a book “Living with HIV/AIDS: Students Tell Their Stories of Stigma, Courage, and Resilience” that focuses on the challenges students affected by HIV/AIDS have dealt with in growing up and at school, and the opportunities school leaders have to contribute to their well-being and to HIV awareness and prevention.  NSBA also has an “HIV/AIDS Policy Development 101” Packet.  In addition, NSBA recently published a resource that can help school boards establish a coordinated approach to health within schools.  So check these out!  And for recent domestic and global HIV/AIDS statistics, visit the Kaiser Family Foundation’s HIV/AIDS webpage.

Daniela Espinosa|December 1st, 2010|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Creating food allergies policies and practices in schools

Eating food can be a pleasurable experience and food is often used to celebrate an occasion.  But what happens when certain foods are the enemy and make you afraid of eating?  Across the country, approximately three million children face that problem.  Food allergic children don’t know when the next food they eat will bring on a set of immunological responses that can sometimes lead to anaphylaxis – a severe, whole-body allergic reaction that develops rapidly, often within seconds or minutes and can be life-threatening.   

How can those children feel safe and supported in the school environment? That is what NSBA sought to answer through a webcast that aired on November 9, 2010.  The webcast was developed by NSBA to provide school leaders with the necessary information and tools to help keep food allergic children safe and ready to learn. 

The webcast featured NSBA’s own senior staff attorney, Lisa Soronen, who spoke of the legal implications of not addressing food allergies within schools, and School Health project associate Amanda Martinez, who provided the audience with useful resources to help revise or develop food allergy policies and practices within schools.  In addition, panelists included a school board member, a superintendent, a nutrition coordinator, a health services director, a school nurse, a CDC health scientist, a medical advisor to the FDA, a Vice President of FAAN, and two students and their parents who shared their personal experiences in dealing with food allergies in school.

The webcast covered an array of topics related to food allergies including: clinical background; problems surrounding food allergic children such as bullying; and food allergy policy, procedure and practice issues.  The panelists’ key messages to better manage food allergies within schools are: students, school staff, parents and the community need to be educated on the facts and practices; communication needs to be open and ongoing; and planning and training are essential. 

BoardBuzz has heard great things about the webcast and NSBA School Health Programs’ staff have received excellent reviews on it.  If you didn’t have the opportunity to view the webcast live, don’t miss out on checking its archived version.  To access it, go to and click on the webcast icon and let us know what you think!

Daniela Espinosa|November 29th, 2010|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Taking care of the mental health needs of students

These days we’ve all been seeing the news on bullying and its unfortunate, tragic consequences.  Those cases not only remind us of how important it is for schools to take strong actions against bullying, but also that it is essential that all of the mental health needs and concerns of students be taken into consideration.

On October 10, 2010 the whole world will be observing World Mental Health Day.  This event provides a great opportunity for schools to increase awareness of mental disorders and open up a dialogue on what needs to be done to prevent and treat those disorders.

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), almost one in five young people have one or more mental, emotional, and behavioral (MEB) dis­orders at any given time. The IOM states that many MEB disorders have life-long effects that include high psychosocial and economic costs, not only for the young people, but also for their families, schools, and communities. Such disorders also interfere with young people’s ability to accomplish age and culturally appropriate developmental tasks, such as establishing healthy interpersonal relation­ships, succeeding in school, and making their way into the workforce.

A recent school-based survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, found, for instance, that during the 12 months before the survey, 26.1 percent of high school students nationwide had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities.

Given these data and the recent news, it imperative that individuals, communities, and schools help tackle the mental health needs of students.  And establishing effective bullying prevention policies and program is a good start.  NSBA has several resources to help inform such policies and programs, including a cyber bullying prevention package, a school law webpage, and a School Health Programs webpage, which contains useful bullying links and other useful resources such as a “Coordinated School Health 101” packet. So check them out!

Daniela Espinosa|October 9th, 2010|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Got water?

Water is often called “the fountain of life.” It is essential – we need to drink water to survive and it is the healthiest drink; it is calorie-free; it hydrates and removes toxins.  In the age of obesity, drinking water instead of sugary beverages is an excellent way to keep calories lower in a diet.  And, water is easy to access and cheap, right?  Well, not exactly… in the last few decades, water has increasingly become a commodity – industries have been making huge profits by selling distinctive bottled waters, including with flavors or vitamins.  Due primarily to the beverage industries’ stronghold, nowadays finding free water to drink that is not in a bottle is not always that simple.

According to an NPR Health Blog, a survey of California schools has revealed that 40 percent of those that responded did not offer free water in their cafeterias.  That has prompted state Senator Mark Leno to introduce a bill that would require schools to provide water for students where they eat lunch.  The bill has made it to the governor’s desk and, if approved, should take effect in January.

NPR did an interview with the senator who stated that he believes the reason behind schools not offering free water is that 1) there is a lack of recognition that hydration is important for both students’ health and performance and 2) there seems to be some confusion over whether offering free water conflicts with the National School Lunch Program regulations or even beverage contracts.

The proposed bill does not provide any additional funding to schools; however, Leno states that providing free water to students can be done at minimal cost and that he has been told that such a program in the Los Angeles Unified School District costs approximately $1.20 per student, per year.

With this bill, the senator not only hopes children will be better able to control their weight, but also improve their academic performance.  The senator adds that “dehydration is associated with impaired cognitive function and that it also can adversely affect alertness, attention and perception, memory and reasoning.  So, if we want our children to succeed in school, we not only need to provide well-trained, motivated teachers and proper supplies, but we also have to make sure they are in good health and able to perform.”

Schools are already doing a lot to help students be healthy, but BoardBuzz agrees with Leno, “water can help.”  Making free water readily available sounds like an effective means to getting kids healthy and ready to learn!

Daniela Espinosa|October 1st, 2010|Categories: Governance, Wellness, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Yet another reason to prevent tobacco use among youth

BoardBuzz knew tobacco was bad for us, but now the Los Angeles Times reports that the stuff is even worse than we thought. It turns out that U.S. cigarette brands are among the most toxic in the world, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is because American cigarettes are typically made from “American blend” tobacco, a specific blend that, because of growing and curing practices, contains higher levels of cancer-causing tobacco-specific nitrosamines. The most popular Canadian, Australian, and British brands, in contrast, are made from “bright” tobacco, which is lighter in color and cured differently.

The bottom line is that any way you slice it, tobacco is bad news.  And yet, 1,500 kids in the U.S. try cigarettes each day and one third of those will become addicted.  One more reason to make sure your district has a comprehensive tobacco-free schools policy, allowing no tobacco use of any kind by anyone at anytime, anywhere on school property. 

NSBA is currently receiving funding from the CDC to develop strategies to strengthen state-level partnerships that involve state school boards associations and other key stakeholders to support tobacco prevention among youth through comprehensive tobacco-free school policies.  Through these partnerships, the National Consortium on Tobacco Use Prevention was born and some of its accomplishments include establishing pilot programs in five states to promote comprehensive tobacco free-schools policies.

Daniela Espinosa|June 9th, 2010|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Food allergies in schools: a manageable reality

BoardBuzz wants to alert readers to an important event that took place this week: Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW).  According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), twelve million Americans have food allergies, including one in every 17 children under the age of three.  Additionally, the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that the prevalence of children with food allergies rose 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, although causes are still unknown. 

However, on Wednesday, May 11, a New York Times articleportrayed a new study casting doubts on many reports of food allergies.  According to the study, only about 8 percent of children and less than 5 percent of adults are food allergic; yet about 30 percent of the population believe they have food allergies.  The study’s author, Dr. March Reidl, believes that there are several reasons for that disparity including that children who had food allergies may not have them as adults.  Another possible reason for such high reported numbers of food allergies is that some people think they have a food allergy when they really just have a food intolerance, such as headaches when they drink red wine.  Still, nowadays, many schools have kids who are truly food allergic and may have staff with the same condition as well.  And a food allergy can strike any person, at any age, unexpectedly.   

It is hard to fully comprehend a food allergy if you’re not a victim of it.  Food is not only one of the main mechanisms for survival and good health, in western societies like ours, it is usually associated with pleasure (we like to eat foods and they can provide a “good feeling”) and often helps celebrate a special occasion.  So can you imagine when certain foods become your enemy, and it’s a matter between life and death?  Can you think of yourself looking at a yummy piece of cake, for instance, and not being able to eat it because you don’t know whether or not it will harm or even kill you or going out to a restaurant and being fearful of cross-contamination…Yes, living with life-threatening food allergies can be pretty difficult. 

That’s why schools should make those with food allergies feel welcomed and secure.  Schools play an essential role in keeping students and staff well informed of food allergies because millions of people eat one or more meals at school everyday.  And BoardBuzz believes food allergies can be well managed within schools.  This includes educating those who do not have food allergies about the seriousness of this medical condition and not isolating those with food allergies, but rather helping them identify potential allergens and handle their condition well.  In addition, it is of utmost importance that schools have emergency plans in place to deal with students who have food allergies and those who might unexpectedly become allergic to a certain food.  For these actions to be successful, schools need to have sound food allergy policies and practices. 

NSBA is currently developing a food allergy policy guide to help school leaders develop a comprehensive food allergy policy.  And, sometime in the fall, NSBAwill have a webcast featuring school leaders, nurses and students who have successfully worked together to address this issue within their school district, so stay tuned! 

What are your schools doing to help children and staff manage food allergies? Leave us a comment.

Daniela Espinosa|May 14th, 2010|Categories: Wellness, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Celebrate School Building Week

BoardBuzz wants to remind its readers of an important event taking place this week: School Building Week.  Our nation’s children spend the majority of their waking hours in a school.  School Building Week provides a great opportunity to draw national attention to the importance of well planned, healthy, high-performing, safe and sustainable schools in order to enhance student learning and community life. 

School Building Week is an annual program supported by the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) and the CEFPI Foundation & Charitable Trust in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Association of REALTORS®, American Institute of Architects, and more than 35 other organizations. This year’s event features a  weeklong celebration of school facilities, including the School of the Future design competition; an historic look at schools through children’s eyes; a focus on excellent schools that serve as centers of community; and a variety of community, state and national events. 

In addition, yesterday, National Healthy Schools Day was celebrated to remind everyone of the importance of promoting healthy and green school environments for all children through the use of the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)Tools for Schools Program.  Research shows, for instance, that 25% of chemicals in the cleaning products used in schools are toxic and contribute to poor indoor air quality, smog, cancer, asthma, and other problems.  And asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism!

According to the CEFPI , School Building Week is a time when schools and school districts may engage in activities and celebrations that channel various partners – students, parents, policymakers, legislators and others – to consider the role the school building plays in the educational process and in the current and future vitality of communities. BoardBuzz knows that through this event, there is an opportunity to create effective learning environments that reflect a given locality’s unique assets and needs, and that strengthen neighborhood life as a resource of education, health and human services for students and community members alike.

Daniela Espinosa|April 27th, 2010|Categories: Wellness, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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