School gardens like this one at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington are ready for spring preparation and planting, but of course now sit untended under the shadow of COVID-19. While the pandemic may have forced unparalleled “physical distancing” on the population, it has generated many more forums of innovative online social connection than ever. Our partners at Lakeside Middle School in Millville, NJ are among thousands of schools around the nation connecting via Google, Facebook or the suddenly indispensable ZOOM video meeting app.
Today’s report shares a couple of important developments. Plus the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in fact may present an occasion to emphasize the potential for whole health wellness programs to support kids’ (and faculty) mental, emotional and behavioral health. We are exploring with partners the question of how schools might prepare for the arrival of students, faculty and families still emotionally shaken by the pandemic, by emphasizing the outcomes of student participation in school wellness programs.
NIH Focus on Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Health: A Visit to Bethesda
This idea of linking a student’s time in a school garden, for example, with a potential to reduce stress and anxiety was the focus of a unique briefing at NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NCCIH, Bethesda, MD on March 4. For the first time anyone can recall, NCCIH staff heard brief presentations from very experienced investigators in mindfulness, PE and fitness, environmental education, yoga, garden and food prep, SEL and nature education in and around K-12 schools.
What was envisioned last December as a small, informal meeting became a 20-person gathering, including NCCIH Director Helene Langevin, Deputy Director David Shurtleff and other NCCIH senior staff members. Two DC area advisors, Kevin Berry, MD and Wendy Bohdel joined researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health, Towson University and the America Institutes of Research. (See a longer report here.)
Dr. Shurtleff had become interested in school-based whole health activities during updates and conversations over the last year. NIH has been steadily developing a focus on deficits in mental, emotional, and behavioral (MEB) health in the population. NCCIH was recently a co-sponsor with the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) on this report released by the National Academies of Science last September:
Not surprisingly, apart from simple mention of social and emotional learning there was no mention of school-based wellness programs. But Dr. Shurtleff saw potential alignment with two important points of strategic emphasis for NCCIH:
1) Embracing a whole-person-health framework for its work, and
2) Addressing these MEB impacts on wellbeing in the population at large
(NCCIH Director Langevin discusses whole-person-health during a Feb. 2020 webinar on the NCCIH Strategi Plan, 2021-2026.)
Our 90-minute March 4 discussion was a first and will help inform a planned workshop focused on MEB issues the NCCIH plans to hold with its sister NIH centers. Dr. Shurtleff graciously tweeted out after the meeting:
@NIH_NCCIH is pleased to be part of the conversation on how best to focus whole-health research across the lifespan, especially with children and adolescents using school-based and other innovative approaches…
It is very important work that fits with our strategic objective to “Foster Health Promotion and Disease Prevention”
Expanding traditional healthcare’s view of “prevention” to include student experiences in collaborative, hands-on wellness programs at school would be a major step in shifting the view that these experiences are “nice-to-have” extracurriculars (of uncertain sustainability) to essential-to-have pieces for a complete 21st century education .
New Health Advisory Board
Through the efforts of our partner and senior advisor, pediatrician Larry Rosen, we have established our inaugural Health Advisory Board. Including more than 25 nationally recognized pediatric health experts, the Whole Health Advisory Board serves to leverage their expertise in integrative health education, research and clinical practice in the service of applying integrative health principles to school wellness policy development and implementation. Dr. Rosen will serve as Chair of the Health Advisory Board, with pediatrician Anne Robinson, MD, acting as Vice-Chair.
In the process of bolstering our Resources Section, we’re continuing to add contributions devoted to dealing with the pandemic. One of those is this short video from Dr. Rosen.
Coping with Coronavirus #2: One Pediatrician’s Perspective
Check out the full Resources Section here .
Help Support the Work with a Financial Contribution
With the assistance of our fiscal sponsor The Institute of Integrative Health, we are now able to accept your tax-deductible financial contributions at our web site. TIIH is our 501©3 partner. EIN: 20-1799284.
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to support their own health and that of their families as they grow and mature into adulthood.