New Project Identifies Correlation Between Student Health, Achievement in Nebraska Schools

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Lincoln, Neb.-- Sixty-one Nebraska school districts may soon keep a closer eye on Nebraska student fitness and well-being, all aimed at making them healthier kids and better test takers.

The Nebraska Association of School Boards (NASB) hopes the data they've collected changes the health culture in the state, and gets smaller school districts involved as well.

One Nebraska doctor said he's already seen a decline in student physical activity in the state.

"One day, when I was taking care of a little third grade kid who was obese," Dr. Bob Rauner said, "I was trying to find more ways to get him motivated to be active.

"I asked him a question, what do you like to do when you're playing at recess? He looked at me and said we don't have recess at my school."

The state hopes by collecting information like student weight, aerobic fitness level and even economic backgrounds, they can improve student health and their minds.

With that, the Nebraska Whole Child Project (NWCP) has formed in an effort to gather that type of information and put it in a central location. They hope to study the data and determine what is relevant to the academic success of Nebraska school children.

It's in conjunction with the Nebraska Association of School Boards.

John Spatz, with the NASB, said they're hoping to interest the private health care sector to take interest and potentially fund programs.

"And then, at some point," Spatz said, "to be able to provide resources for school districts to enable to them to do things to promote a healthy culture."

Ultimately, the NWCP wants all the members and districts involved to have access to the following services: training and technical assistance to assess weight status and aerobic fitness, a central database to house the health and wellness data collected by the members and experts to study the resulting data and report back to the school districts.

Much of the data they've collected so far comes from Lincoln and Kearney Public Schools, though they did they did say other districts have been involved. Some of the data they collected, for example, said 81 percent of students that passed an aerobic fit test in the state also passed state math tests. Conversely, 64 percent of "non-fit" students didn't pass their state tests.

Ultimately, state education leaders said they're still compiling data and determining successful avenues for utilizing the information. They said they'll meet in a couple of weeks or months after they've had time to get more data and discuss the issues with other interested parties.

"As far as collaboration between the private and the public," Patty Bentzinger, of the Norris Public School board, said, "this is the first time I've been on the board that we've been talking about that, and it's kind of exciting."