How healthy are Colorado schools? New survey provides some answers.

Pam Sturgeon, an early childhood mental health consultant, works with a boy at TLC Learning Center in Longmont. (Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat)
Pam Sturgeon, an early childhood mental health consultant, works with a boy at TLC Learning Center in Longmont. (Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat)
Pam Sturgeon, an early childhood mental health consultant, works with a boy at TLC Learning Center in Longmont. (Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat)

By Ann SchimkeChalkbeat  

How many minutes do Colorado elementary students get for lunch? How many elementary schools take away recess when students misbehave? Are there nurses at every school?

The answers are 19 minutes, more than half and no. These and many other statistics are the latest results from a school health survey that’s been piloted across the state for the last two years.

The survey, called Colorado Healthy Schools Smart Source, is a collaboration between the Colorado Education Initiative, the state health and education departments, and Kaiser Permanente, which provided $3 million for the project in 2013.

It’s meant to help school leaders gauge how well they’re doing incorporating health and wellness into their buildings. Last school year, 451 schools filled out the voluntary online survey. Project leaders hope to eventually increase that number to more than 1,000 — about three-quarters of all Colorado schools.

Since it’s meant to be an every-other-year survey, the next big push for participation will take place in 2017-18, said Andrea Pulskamp, senior manager for health and wellness at Colorado Education Initiative. That said, the survey is still open to interested schools that want to fill it out this year.

The survey results for individual school aren’t public, but aggregate statewide results as well as those broken out by region and school district size are publicly available.

Project leaders initially talked about making the survey data available through the state education department’s website. But Pulskamp said they’ve since learned the state only includes data mandated for collection by state law.

Such a requirement would make the survey feel like a punitive accountability measure, something it’s not intended to be, she said.

Although there are no penalties for schools that don’t demonstrate strong health and wellness practices on the survey, there are potential rewards for those that do. The results, along with other pieces of evidence, can help schools win cash awards in the annual Healthy School Champions competition administered by the Colorado Education Initiative.

Here are some highlights and lowlights from the most recent results:

— About 30 percent of elementary and secondary schools have school gardens.
— On average, elementary school students get 82 minutes of physical education a week, well below the 150-minute recommendation.
— Eighty-eight percent of secondary schools include Internet and social media literacy in their health courses.
— Forty-four percent of elementary schools have a school nurse at the building for 10 or fewer hours per week.
— Fifteen percent of secondary schools lack school psychologists and 36 percent lack school social workers.
— Eighteen percent of elementary schools and nearly a quarter of secondary schools conduct universal mental health screenings.

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited several statistics without clarifying they were for K-8 schools and those that include kindergarten through 12th grade. The story has been changed to show statistics broken out by school level — either elementary or secondary.