Dr. Jeremy Lyon Shares His School Health “Ah-Ha’s”

Posted on October 10, 2012

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Photo by Brandon Boykin

Dr. Jeremy Lyon is superintendent of Hays CISD in Kyle Texas, and the 2012 recipient of ASHA’s Superintendent’s Leadership Award. In his acceptance remarks, he shares the moments that led him to not only support, but to prioritize school health.

I would like to thank the American School Health Association and especially, all of the people working on student health issues.

As a school superintendent, I am faced with the profound puzzle of trying to create conditions within our schools for children to learn successfully.

In trying to solve this puzzle of student achievement, I always seems to come back to some common themes: our children increasingly live in conditions where they don’t eat properly, they don’t get enough sleep, and they are not as physically active as they should be. Our children are not healthy.

And, while getting deeper and deeper into the issue of children’s health, in 2010, I read an article in our local newspaper entitled: “Diabetes Cases Projected to Soar in Texas.” I had to read the article a few times to really understand the magnitude of what it said – that Texas will have 24% of it’s population diagnosed with diabetes by 2040, with over 8 million adult Texans with the disease. One in four Texans will be a diabetic in 2040?? Those statistics are astounding. And as a school superintendent, in our community, this is happening on my watch.

So the other pieces of the puzzle, in a time when there are daily reports of studies indicating how unhealthy we have become, became very clear with only a little digging. The direct relationship between obesity and school attendance (more obese students miss more school days). The direct relationship between student achievement and fitness (fitter students have higher student achievement). The decline of physical education in schools. The mediocre food quality we offer our children. On and on and on. It really comes down to a simple question regarding our children: “Don’t we have an ethical responsibility to provide conditions for children to live full and healthy lives?”

And there was another great realization as we began to put the puzzle pieces together to create healthier schools. Unlike the seemingly insurmountable challenge of closing the achievement gap with fewer and fewer resources, improving the physical well-being of our students was something we could do and see immediate positive results. We learned very quickly that little things like improving food choices and increasing physical activity have a big payoff. We learned that big things, like creating a position of student wellness and launching a coordinated approach to health through CATCH, have a big payoff. We have learned that every single thing we do on the positive side of children’s health, has in fact, a big payoff.

We learned that to walk the walk with students, we have to be healthier adults. For our 2200 employees, we need to get healthy. We have a keen appreciation for how complex the challenge of improving an adult’s personal health is, and that making employees feel guilty about their circumstances yields nothing. In response,we have created a full spectrum of encouragement and opportunities for getting involved in safe, trust-building activities that help us get healthier.

The great news about improving the health of children in schools is that it is a reachable, tangible goal. It is not elusive. Taking a series of direct actions, grabbing the low-hanging fruit of simple actions while building sustainable capacity, is very straight forward.

And the last thing we have learned and are in the process of activating is the notion that the responsibility for children’s health is not the problem of the school system alone. It was Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the VP and Chief Medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield Texas, who provided me with another “ahah” moment – that to accomplish the goal of improving children’s health requires local governments, school districts, community leaders, and parents to all work toward common goals with common commitments. This is key. That our efforts in the school district are part of something larger, a commitment to transform our local communities into places where children thrive physically.

Together, we can do this work, change the headlines, and fulfill our ethical responsibility to children.

 

Read more about Dr. Lyon: Hays CISD Superintendent Tapped for National School Health Award

 

 

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Posted in: 2012 Conference