It’s rare for me to go to public events and hear opening remarks from a politician and agree — deeply agree — with everything they’re saying. Let along two politicians, back-to-back.
But today it happened.
I was, by virture of my involvement with the PEI Home and School Federation, invited to the release of the SHAPES-PEI project’s latest report.
SHAPES had been in my sideview mirror for a long time, but, in part because of my blindness for anything named with an acronym, I’d paid it little heed.
SHAPES, as it turns out, stands for School Health Action Planning and Evaluation System and is a multi-year project to gather data about, and launch actions to modify, issues related to student health in Prince Edward Island schools. Health, in this case, broadly defined to include everything from mental fitness to healthy eating to physical activity.
The project collects data in schools across the Island from students themselves, aggregates the data by school, district and province-wide, distributes the data to schools, parents, and policy-makers and then oversees actions designed to intervene in areas needing attention.
SHAPES is a laudable program if only because it allows interventions and their results to be research-based: behaviour modification is hard business, and when it’s done in a conventional wisdom/best guess manner the results can be disappointing. Having good baseline data about what the current situation is, and then being able to measure the impact of interventions is a rigourous manner makes the chance of succeeding much higher.
What’s really laudable, however, is the obvious commitment by the Ministers of both Health and Education to supporting the project financially and logistically, and also, and perhaps most importantly, culturally: both expressed in their remarks an understanding that policy making in health and policy making in education cannot happen in isolation, that how and what and where we teach our children affects their health in later life, and that intervening at an early age, in a broad and systematic way, can have substantial societal impact.
The greatest practical expression of this is the appointment of Sterling Carruthers as “school health specialist,” responsible to both departments and working with the resources of both. I met Sterling today: he’s a smart, practical person; I can’t imagine a better person to guide the collective effort needed to move these efforts forward. While it seems, in retrospect, a simple notion to cross-appoint someone in this manner, anyone with experience with the public service can tell you how deeply ingrained the departmental silos are at every level.
Sterling made it clear that it’s not just government — nor indeed just schools — that are going to affect behaviours and modify environments: the cooperation of parents, teachers, staff, community groups and, of course, students themselves is vital.
To that end I encourage you to review the latest SHAPES results yourself: there’s a tremendous amount of valuable data there, and we can use that data, as a community of educators, to improve the lives of our children.