GBPH Blogs, Updates & Stories

Published on Monday, August 21, 2023

It takes a village

Public Health key partners in building healthy school communities

By Jody Kroeplin


As many of us wind down from summer vacations and move back into our routines, there is hope for a more “normal” and healthy school year ahead, without interruptions and extensive public health measures.

That said, what factors contribute to a healthy school?

Does it include students and staff with up-to-date vaccinations?

Yes! Prevention and control of infectious diseases in Canada and around the world have been achieved largely thanks to vaccinations – they truly are a cornerstone of public health.

There is a law in Ontario that requires students to have specific vaccines while attending school. These required vaccines, along with other recommended vaccines, are publicly funded and provided by your healthcare provider. Some of these vaccines are also offered by Public Health in your child’s school.

Start the school year off with up-to-date vaccinations – check your child’s yellow immunization record or contact your healthcare provider.

Does good oral health and oral health screening programs contribute to health within a school?

Yes! Good oral health has a definite link to overall health. Oral health screenings are important for the prevention and early identification of oral health problems. Urgent dental needs left untreated can result in pain, infection, loss of teeth, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, loss of body weight, difficulty learning and communicating, and lack of self-esteem. Students who are in pain are not able to learn to their full potential. This can also lead to poor school attendance. 

Did you know that students have oral health screenings at school?

The Oral Health team at the Grey Bruce Health Unit provides annual dental screenings for selected grades in all publicly funded elementary schools and private schools throughout Grey-Bruce. It provides an opportunity for children who normally would not be able to be seen by a dental professional for a variety of reasons to receive a free dental screening. Even for children who visit a dentist regularly, the screening can be helpful in identifying dental issues that may have arisen between regular dental check-ups.

Do nutritious food choices and food literacy programs contribute to healthy students and schools?  

Yes! School boards in Ontario follow the School Food and Beverage Policy, which ensures that food sold in school cafeterias or for fundraising events will enhance the growth and development of students. This assists in creating a supportive food environment in the school.

Schools can also participate in the Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP).

OSNP provides free access to nutritious foods at breakfast, and snack or lunch.

As noted by local co-ordinator, Bev Gateman, “It is our responsibility to ensure all students have access to healthy food each and every school day. Food is a basic need and OSNP programs help meet that need for students.”

But, how do students develop positive relationships with food?

Canadian curriculum supports are available to ensure educators are helping students to create a positive relationship with food.

Programs, like Teach Food First – an educator’s toolkit for exploring Canada’s Food Guide, have been associated to long-term positive eating attitudes and behaviours.

In addition, Public Health Dieticians have developed online curriculum resources and training for educators to support students in building a positive relationship with food. 

But, healthy schools and students are created for so much more!

Healthy schools are built on five key elements that create an environment to improve student learning. They are:

  1. Curriculum Teaching and Learning. Healthy schools offer a range of opportunities for students to learn; practise and promote positive and healthy behaviors; and practise how to lead healthy, active lives.
  2. School and Classroom Leadership. Healthy schools create a positive classroom and school environment and they identify shared goals and priorities that are responsive to the needs of the school community.
  3. Student Engagement. Healthy schools engage students to identify with and value their learning; feel a sense of belonging; and be informed, engaged and empowered to participate in and lead academic and non-academic activities.
  4. Social and Physical Environments. Healthy schools create a healthy, safe and caring environment to support learning and contribute to the positive cognitive, emotional, social and physical development of students.
  5. Home, School and Community Partnerships. Healthy schools engage parents, school staff, organizations, such as public health, social services, parks and recreation and community groups to support, enhance and promote opportunities for learning and well-being.

Evidence is clear, health and learning are interdependent. Healthy children make better learners and better-educated children are healthier.

So what are the benefits to students who attend healthy schools?


  • concentrate and learn better because their basic needs are met, such as nutrition, physical activity and emotional wellbeing;
  • develop greater confidence, motivation and self-esteem, and will have the commitment and capacity to make important life and health choices;
  • have access to community services; 
  • are more likely to achieve better academic results;
  • have strategies to interact effectively with peers; and
  • attend school more regularly.

So, as the kids head back into the classroom, remember – “it takes a village to raise a child.” We’re all in this together to help our students succeed!

Public Health is committed to being key partners in building healthy school communities - collaborating with students and the broader school community to promote student wellbeing and support learning.

Please reach out to your healthcare provider or educator if you have any questions or concerns related to your child’s health or wellbeing and contact Public Health regarding any Public Health programming.


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