Descriptive text
CSHP AT-A-GlanceConcept to ActionResourcesLinksNewsletter
Concept to Action Making Health Academic Home Concept to Action

Action Steps

Comprehensive School Health Education

School Counseling, Psychological, and Social Services

Healthy School Environment

Family and Community Involvement

School Health Services

School Nutrition

Physical Education

Health Promotion for Staff

Action Steps for Implementing a Healthy School Environment

A school’s environment is the thread that connects the multitude of activities on a campus.  In many respects this thread is almost invisible, yet everyone experiences its influence.  Positive social relationships and attitudes about school are as important to the environment as are safe and well-kept buildings and grounds.  A safe, clean, and well-maintained school with a positive psychosocial climate and culture can foster school connectedness, which in turn boosts student and staff health as well as students’ educational achievement.

A school’s physical environment includes the school building and the surrounding grounds, such as noise, temperature, and lighting as well as physical, biological, or chemical agents.  The alarming increase in the number of students with asthma is one problem that may, in part, be affected by poor physical conditions in schools.  The psychosocial school environment encompasses the attitudes, feelings, and values of students and staff.   Physical and psychological safety, positive interpersonal relationships, recognition of the needs and success of the individual, and support for learning are all part of the psychosocial environment.  Other factors that can affect a school’s environment include: the economy; social, cultural, and religious influences; geography; socioeconomic status of students’ families; tax bases; and legal, political, and social institutions. 

Creating a healthy school environment requires the involvement of virtually everyone in the school—students, administrators, teachers, custodial and maintenance staff, school counselors, school nurses, nutrition services workers.  In addition, schools need involvement of families and environmental, public health, public safety, public welfare, and other community agencies.

School administrators have the overall responsibility for a school’s physical and psychosocial environment.  Superintendents have the responsibility for complying with laws, rules, and education code sections that affect the school environment.  In many districts, the administrative role might be delegated to facilities coordinators, risk managers, or environmental health specialists.

Creating and sustaining a healthy school environment requires commitment from everyone.  As with any systemic reorganization, change takes time—sometimes years.  Over time, schools will identify problems, then analyze them and make necessary changes.  Even as schools find successful solutions to one set of problems, new challenges arise.  Thus, a school’s attention to the healthfulness of its environment will evolve and adapt to changing circumstances, while never losing sight of educating their students.  Below you will find action steps and resources to help build a healthy school environment into a CSHP.

Actions for Schools

  • Provide leadership and administrative support for creating and sustaining a healthy school environment
  • Conduct a site assessment of the schools physical and social environment to determine the school’s needs
  • Establish a set of measurable goals and objectives and design activities around improving the school’s physical and social environment
  • Develop and use a data collection system for assessing and monitoring the school environment
  • Create a school environmental health and safety team, that includes PTA members, school officials, teachers, custodians, business and community leaders, and law enforcement officials
  • Develop, implement and enforce policies and a plan for creating and sustaining a healthy school environment that clearly define acceptable and unacceptable school conditions
  • Designate or hire a coordinator to handle school safety and school building issues
  • Help teachers develop activities for students that emphasize the importance of an overall healthy school environment
  • Involve the parents and community about any school construction or renovation plans and/or policies regarding school safety
  • Emphasize the importance of communication between teachers and students which includes issues of listening to feelings and physical ailments
  • Empower students by involving them in planning, creating, and sustaining a school culture of safety and respect
  • Evaluate healthy school activities periodically to assess progress toward achieving your goals and objectives and use results to revise, improve and strengthen your program

Actions for Families and Communities

  • Identify stakeholders within the community who have an interest in creating and maintaining a safe and healthy school environment
  • Create a school environmental health and safety team, that includes PTA members, school officials, teachers, custodians, business and community leaders, and law enforcement officials
  • Promote the importance of overall health, well-being, and social competence among youth, especially youth at risk
  • Write to newspapers, speak at school board meetings and policymakers about the health, academic and cost benefits a healthy school environment would provide
  • Support legislation that limits the availability of alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, and firearms to young people by providing public testimony at the local and state governmental levels
  • Support legislation that endorses the improvement of environmental health by providing public testimony at the local and state governmental levels
  • Advocate for more funding for school construction and renovations
  • Involve students in letter writing campaigns to lobby local, state, or national decision-makers about specific policy changes
  • Request parenting and student courses or workshops on communication skills, discipline, and building children’s self-esteem
  • Volunteer to become the parent liaison to address  school  safety and building issues in your child’s school

Actions for State and National Organizations and Colleges and Universities

  • Foster collaboration among schools, parents, researchers and expert community members (i.e., environmentalists, law enforcement officials) with an interest in healthy school environments
  • Develop trainings that help environmental specialists and school personnel work together effectively in school settings
  • Identify and share examples of exemplary school environments
  • Collect data and support research on the status and impact of the school environment

Adapted by permission of the publisher from Marx, E. & Wooley, S. F. (Eds.) (1999). Health Is Academic: A Guide to Coordinated School Health Programs. New York: Teachers College Press., 1998 by Education Development Center, Inc. All rights reserved.

Action steps were updated (2003) and adapted from the resources listed below.

For a more detailed discussion of a Healthy School Environment, see the book Health Is Academic.


An Action Guide to Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools, US Department of Education (USED)

Childproofing Communities Campaign, Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ)

Crisis Communications Guide and Toolkit, National Education Agency (NEA)

Injuries in the School Environment: A Resource Guide, Children's Safety Network (CSN)

Preventing Unintentional Injury and Violence, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

School-based Prevention: Critical Components, CSAP's Northeast Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies (NECAPT)

School Safety Fact Sheet, CSN

Your School Building: Is it in Good Shape?, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Asthma Resources

Asthma Wellness: Keeping Children with Asthma in School and Learning, American Association of School Administrators (AASA)

Guidelines for School Health Programs to Prevent Tobacco Use and Addiction, CDC

Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma--Update on Selected Topics for 2002, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Strategies for Addressing Asthma Within a Coordinated School Health Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Related Links

American Federation of Teachers

American Association of School Administrators

American Association for Health Education

American Lung Association

American Public Health Association

American School Health Association

Asthma and Schools

Center for Health, Environment and Justice

Children's Environmental Health Network

Children's Safety Network

CSAP's Northeast Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies

Department of Energy

Environmental Protection Agency

Healthy School Network, Inc.

National Association of School Psychologists

National Education Association

National Environmental Health Association

National Safety Council

National School Boards Association

Public Risk Management Association

Safe and Drug-Free Schools

Safe Schools/Healthy Schools Action Center

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

For other organizations that support school health, click on Links.


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