About 350 Colorado schools will try out a new survey this year that measures how well they incorporate health and wellness into all aspects of school life, from curriculum and meals to student services and school culture.
The online tool, Healthy Schools Smart Source, is meant to give school leaders information about how their practices in areas such as nutrition, physical activity and social-emotional health stack up to those at other public schools in the state.
Citing the link between student health and achievement, advocates say Smart Source will help schools identify and track practices that make students better learners.
It was first piloted last year with 77 schools. This year’s expanded pilot represents a second opportunity for project leaders to fine tune the survey.
Unlike the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which sparked a protracted debate last spring about whether parental consent should be required before students take part, Smart Source isn’t a student survey and doesn’t collect student-level data.
Pagosa Springs Middle School participated in Smart Source last year and will do so again this fall. Principal Chris Hinger believes the tool will ultimately help correct what he views as the state’s single-minded focus on academics and test scores.
“Smart Source … has the potential to swing that pendulum back to where we build into our accountability systems and our improvement plans health and wellness,” he said.
“If you value something, you measure it.”
Smart Source is a collaboration between the Colorado Education Initiative, the state health and education departments and Kaiser Permanente, which provided $3 million for the project in 2013.
The new survey collapses various school health questionnaires — including one from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — into a single tool. It asks about topics ranging from school salad bars and food-related fundraisers to daily recess time. There are also questions related to social-emotional health, such as whether schools conduct universal mental health screenings and have bullying prevention efforts.
Amy Dyett, director of Health and Wellness at the Colorado Education Initiative, said the tool appears to be unique nationally and has prompted interest from groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Action for Healthy Kids.
In Colorado, the tool replaces the five-year-old Healthy School Champions Score Card, a similar survey that was primarily used to determine winners of an annual healthy schools contest. That contest will continue with Smart Source as a key yardstick.
Like the Score Card, Smart Source will be voluntary, but project leaders hope that eventually about 75 percent of Colorado public schools will use it. That’s about 1,400 schools, in contrast to the 75 to 100 that routinely filled out the Score Card.
One of the biggest incentives to participate in Smart Source will be the crisp results report that participating schools receive.
“The number one thing that they want is a nice report. They want the data back,” said Dyett.
Hinger, whose school has won back-to-back Healthy School Champions awards, said he appreciates comparative data from other Colorado schools on the Smart Source report.
“‘Where is the rest of the state?’ is always a question I’m asking,” he said.
For now, only participating schools will receive the results report, but project leaders hope eventually to make them available to the public.