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What Is the Healthy Afterschool Movement?

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By Daniel Hatcher

Much has been accomplished since 2009 when a small group of national organizations came together to form the Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Our collective vision: "foster health and well-being practices in afterschool programs nationwide using science-based standards for healthy eating, physical activity, screen time and family engagement."

Nine years later, the three largest afterschool providers in the country - the YMCA of the USA, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) - are all implementing commitments to disseminate the standards (now adopted by the National AfterSchool Association) to thousands of out-of-school time leaders.

Healthier Generation's role in this effort is to provide technical assistance and training tools to empower educators to bring the standards to life in a way that makes sense to them. For example, through our partnership with NRPA, over 1,650 park and recreation sites have provided increased access to healthy food and physical activity for more than 293,000 youth.

Today, states are adopting policies to recognize high-performing sites, and if you attend any major national afterschool conference, HEPA (short for healthy eating and physical activity) is on the agenda. There is even an afterschool Most Influential in Health & Wellness list. This summer, HOST Coalition leaders refreshed the national standards to improve user experience - HEPA 2.0.

Healthy afterschool is a movement - now what?

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Now is the time to integrate social, emotional and academic development into the healthy afterschool movement. Here are three opportunities:

1. Nutrition Education Infused with Social, Emotional and Academic Development (SEAD)

As the research base grows and tells us that "learning is social and emotional," our approach to nutrition education and physical activity must evolve. In my last post here, 4 Ways to Foster Belonging through Physical Activity, I shared simple resources to increase quality physical activity while encouraging relationship building and inclusion. Talking about healthy eating also provides many opportunities to blend SEAD practices like cooperation, compassion and teamwork into activities and instruction; for example, adding conversation prompts to snack time. To explore even more ideas, visit Building Connectedness through Healthy Eating.

2. Wellness Policies and Youth Voice

Wellness policies help ensure that implementation of national standards is the norm for organizations and sites. In particular, as staff turnover is a major challenge, educating new staff and volunteers on the importance of the social and emotional climate is essential to building momentum, and adopting strong wellness policies will help maintain consistency even as staff come and go. Engaging staff, families and students in developing and implementing policies strengthens decision-making and buy-in. Consider organizing a Youth-Hosted Forum to dialogue and action plan as a community. For additional guidance on engaging youth as wellness leaders, explore NRPA's best practices guide.

3. Training and Technical Assistance

For the healthy afterschool movement to stay relevant, it is essential that educators are introduced to new concepts via strong professional development resources that connect the dots across different issue areas.. For example, our collaboration with the National Girls Collaborative Project led to STEM and Wellness: A Powerful Equation for Equity. Professional development is also critical as we learn more about the importance of social, emotional and academic development. Afterschool educators have the power to transform the school day, and blending topic areas creates even more opportunity for school-community collaboration. Those of us developing resources must keep social and emotional health at the heart of our trainings and encourage afterschool leaders to work collaboratively with schools, especially school wellness councils, to find areas of synergy. To learn more, here are Tips from 7 Experts on School-Community Collaboration.

The cohesiveness of the healthy afterschool movement is an opportunity to operationalize social, emotional and academic development in an organic and meaningful way. If all of us become champions of young people's social, emotional, and academic development, we can reinvigorate current progress and bring even more partners to the table. Most importantly, together, we can demonstrate that quality afterschool is healthy afterschool and that healthy afterschool is only healthy if social and emotional health is prioritized.

Photo: Students and instructors play a game at an afterschool program in Maryland. (Courtesy of Alliance for a Healthier Generation)

Daniel W. Hatcher is director of community partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a national nonprofit working to empower schools, companies, community organizations and families to transform the conditions and systems that lead to healthier kids. Hatcher has spent over a decade developing partnerships and innovative content with the goal of ensuring all 10.2 million children in afterschool have the opportunity to eat healthy and stay active. Daniel writes the Healthier Generation afterschool blog and is a regular contributor to the BOOST Breakfast Club blog.

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