• PPS improving student health, with help from partnerships and grants

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    Over the last year there has been a groundswell of activity around improving student health and wellness in Portland Public Schools. Aided by partnerships that have resulted in PPS receiving three grants totaling about $3 million, the district’s Health Education and Student Support Services teams have been able to bring innovative programming and new staff to PPS’s health education efforts.

    “PPS is leading the way in health education in the state and in the nation,” said Dr. Jenny Withycombe, Academic Program Manager for Health and Physical Education. “We know that the best way to change a culture is with our youth and prevention, and we are meeting them at all levels.”

    Starting in 2018-19, all K-5 students have been receiving four units of health education, and middle school students are required to take at least one quarter of health. High school students continue to complete two semesters of health education spread throughout grades 9-12. And all PPS students now receive education about healthy and unhealthy relationships, as well as violence prevention, every year.

    The grants PPS received that are helping these efforts:

    Comprehensive sexuality education: PPS received a $1.7 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control to be used over five years in the “Schools Advancing Youth Wellness” project, also known as “SAY Wellness.” The project, which is finishing its first year in PPS, has given every middle and high school heath teacher training in sexuality education, violence prevention, and establishing safe, supportive and affirmative environments for students, including LGBTQ+ youth.

    “I left knowing how learners grow and develop, recognizing that patterns of learning and behaviors vary individually within and across the cognitive, social, emotional and physical areas,” a high school health teacher said.

    REAHL poster image Drug and alcohol supports: Regence, through the health insurance company’s corporate social responsibility division, gave a $40,000 grant to the REAHL (Recovery, Education and Action for Healthy Living) initiative, which supports prevention of substance use. The initiative, which was launched in November uses a range of student and family related events, focus groups and the creation of resources for counselors and other school staff.

    “We are thrilled to be able to deepen our collaboration with our community partners on the ground doing this valuable work,” said Brenda Martinek, PPS Chief of Student Support Services.

    K-5 heath education: In April, PPS received an $833,000 grant from the Oregon Health Authority that will help the district increase its capacity to lay the foundation for health starting with elementary-age students. The grant will fund the “Health for K-5” initiative that will train teachers to use skills-based health education and curricular integration, and will establish and train two health education leaders in every PPS school with K-5 students, as well as interested teachers across the state.

    “Health for K-5 will help OHA meet its goals of promoting positive behavioral health and preventing substance use by reaching thousands of students and families throughout Oregon,” Withycombe said.

    --Tullan Spitz