10: Helping Schools Get Healthy

Victoria Pless, an ASTHO Senior Analyst of Social and Behavioral Health, explores the ways states and territories have helped make youth sports safe for kids during the pandemic; Alex Mays, Senior National Program Director for the non-profit Healthy...

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Victoria Pless, an ASTHO Senior Analyst of Social and Behavioral Health, explores the ways states and territories have helped make youth sports safe for kids during the pandemic; Alexandra Mays, MHS, Senior National Program Director for the non-profit Healthy Schools Campaign, talks about the assistance her organization provides to ASTHO members; and we preview a new ASTHO blog about steps taken to help children living with disabilities make up for learning lost due to the pandemic.

Blog Post: Youth sports as a protective factor to promote resiliency

Website: Healthy Schools Campaign

Blog Post: States address pandemic-linked learning loss among students with disabilities

Microlearning: Innovative STD prevention and treatment strategies

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, August 23rd, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Here's today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Students are headed back to classes and their sports. Playing on teams can help strengthen kids' resilience when facing trauma in their lives.

ASTHO's Victoria Pless is a senior analyst of social and behavioral health. She says many ASTHO members have developed COVID-19 protocols to help children get back in the game.


There are many states strengthening youth sports, which we featured in an ASTHO Experts blog post released last month.

Many states looked at commissions and legislation about youth sports in and beyond the COVID-19 response, and a few that we highlighted in our blog included: Washington and California, who looked at safe protocols for play; and Maryland, who layered in practices for players, partners, and coaches.

Our blog highlights the ways that policy can be leveraged to support youth through youth sports to build resiliency even during trying times.


Look for a link to the blog post in today's show notes.


The Healthy Schools Campaign is a Chicago-based national nonprofit focused on creating healthy school environments. Of course, the organization works with schools, but it also helps states and territories.

Alex Mays is the group's senior national program director. She talks about their work in today's morning conversation.

Tell us about some of that work that your organization has done to support states and territories over the last 18 months.



So, we have done a lot of work with states and territories around really just enabling them to continue doing a lot of what they had been pre-pandemic.

So, for example, core to our work is supporting states and school districts in delivering school health services. And, obviously, when school buildings shut down, you know, what did that look like? You had buildings that were no longer open, kids who had been receiving critical services.

And so, we were getting a lot of questions from states around how can we make sure kids are still getting access to these critical health services—whether that's mental health services, speech therapy services, occupational therapy services, you name it.

And so, we did a lot of work with states to enable them to pivot to telehealth and make policy changes that made sure that they could still deliver those services to kids through telehealth, bill for those services so they were getting key funding to doing that work.

And we've also done a lot of work with states around helping them leverage the COVID relief funding to support health and wellness. So, states got about $190 billion for K-12 education through the three COVID relief bills, and there's a lot of flexibility in terms of how that funding gets used. And so, we have really wanted to work with states to make sure that they understand how the funding can be used to make long-term investments that support health and wellness of schools.

So, that, for example, could be investing that funding in data systems that support mental health screening or data collection to make sure we understand what kids needs are when it comes to mental health. It could be investing in that funding in training to make sure staff of the skillset needed to support health and wellness of kids. And it can be hiring staff that the state level to really oversee and support this work. So, a lot of opportunity with that historic funding, and we really want to make sure those opportunities aren't missed.


You've been thinking about schools and the way forward in this new normal.

What are school people telling you and those conversations about the challenges and opportunities they see coming this school year?


Sure. So, I think a huge one that comes as no surprise as far as the challenge is increasing mental health needs of students and staff. So, we know just with the tremendous stress and loss that has come with the last year and a half, it's no surprise that we would, you know, see an impact on people's mental health and wellness.

And we're starting to see the data that supports that—ER visits due to mental health concerns are up among children and adolescents, parents’ concerns around their children's mental health have increased. And so—and we hear that from the schools that we work with too. There's a lot of concerns around how they can be really equipped to support a student's mental health as students returned to in-person learning.

But I think there's also a lot of opportunities that we're hearing. One is just that over the last year and a half, we have seen incredible cross-sector collaboration between education, public health, healthcare, you name it. I mean, people have just come together to really figure out how to collaborate and support young peoples' health and wellness needs.

And I think there's a lot of opportunity to continue that collaboration and a lot of power that can come from that. So, we have continued to see a lot of that work continue. We hope to continue seeing that level of collaboration as students returned to in-person learning. And that goes for the federal level, state level, district level, school level.



ASTHO members are taking action to address pandemic-related learning loss among students with disabilities. Several states have proposed legislation to address the trauma connected with the sudden switch to distance learning during the early months of the pandemic. Others are allocating funding and resources to help students get caught up.

There's a new ASTHO blog on the topic—it's full of information for members exploring solutions to this challenge and it's available now using the link and the show notes.


Finally, we want to remind you about a microlearning featuring innovative STD prevention and treatment strategies. It's available online as well.


Find a link to the training and all of the blogs discussed today in the show notes.

Also remember to follow us on apple podcasts and Spotify, or listen on Alexa or Google assistant.

And if you have a minute, please take time to share our show with a colleague.


Join us tomorrow for more ASTO news and information, including a conversation about the CDC’s advice for universal indoor masking in schools.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.



Alexandra Mays MHS

Senior National Program Director, Healthy Schools Campaign

Victoria Pless MPH PMP

Senior Analyst, Social and Behavioral Health