“It Takes a Village”: Texas PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month & The Importance of SHACs

It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child.

When it comes to the health and well-being of our youth, we couldn’t agree more.

The Texas PTA has designated November as Healthy Lifestyles Month. Healthy Lifestyles Month offers educational resources and engagement opportunities that empower communities, families, and students to make better-informed health decisions.

One of the ways in which parents can engage in the health education of their child is by getting involved with their local School Health Advisory Council, more commonly known as SHAC.

SHACs are groups of individuals appointed by school districts to assist the districts “in ensuring that local community values are reflected in health education instruction,” according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. Members come from different areas of the community, including from within the school district, but the majority of SHAC members must be parents who are not employed by the district.

SHACs play an important role in strengthening the connection between health and learning. They can help parents and community stakeholders reinforce the knowledge and skills children need to stay healthy for a lifetime.

To commemorate Healthy Lifestyles Month, we asked two SHAC members to share why they are involved with their local SHAC and why SHACs are so important to help ensure our students learn about healthy living, sexual health, and more.

Monica Faulkner, Ph.D., LMSW | Director, Research Associate Professor, Foster Care Liaison | The University of Texas at Austin | Steve Hicks School of Social Work | Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing

Tell us about your involvement in a SHAC.

I was appointed to the Round Rock ISD in 2015 when my oldest daughter was in the 3rd grade. I’ve served various roles on the SHAC, including President and Committee Chairs. I am most proud of the advocacy from the SHAC in getting more mental health support in our schools. We now have school social workers in each of our learning communities, and we have seen the benefit of having them, particularly after the tornado last year that hit several of our neighborhoods.

I am also happy to report that we were able to compromise on the adoption of a sexual health curriculum so that parents have multiple options for their children.

How beneficial are PTA groups and SHACs to students, schools, and parents?

Every district is different, and you want the voices of the parents, educators, and students in a community to be able to directly impact decisions. I believe the SHAC serves as a means to bring those voices to the school board in an effective way.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about getting involved in a SHAC?

I would encourage anyone to show up for SHAC meetings regardless of whether they are appointed to the SHAC. I’ve seen parents come to meetings and learn a lot from the various presentations. It takes a long time to learn about all the services, opportunities, and challenges a district is facing. I think it is important that parents be patient, ask questions and really understand the landscape before making recommendations. In many cases, there is more consensus than division, and you can capitalize on it to move things forward.

Jessica ‘J.R’ Chester | Program Director Texas is Ready/TYFI

Tell us about your involvement in a SHAC.

I have served as a parent member of my local SHAC for four years, and I’m currently in my second term as Co-Chair. SHACs were created to ensure that recommendations from the group reflect the individual needs and values of the communities it serves. As a member, I reflect the diversity and contribute to some of the values of Garland ISD.

How beneficial are PTA groups and SHACs to students, schools and parents?

Parent-Teacher-Student Organizations (PTSOs) and SHACs are extremely beneficial to students, schools, parents, and communities because they offer a platform for all of the aforementioned bodies to work together for the benefit of young people in Texas. It is important for adults to not only hold space for students in these kinds of groups but also to elevate youth voices when it comes to decision-making.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about getting involved in a SHAC?

For anyone considering applying to their local SHAC, I recommend that they first read the SHAC Guide created by the Texas Department of State Health Services in order to get a good understanding of the purpose of SHACs and how they operate. I would then advise them to reach out to the SHAC coordinator for their local school district or check the district website to get the information for the upcoming SHAC meetings. General SHAC meetings are public, so some people may want to attend a meeting or two before deciding whether or not to apply for membership. Lastly, I’d encourage them to support their local SHAC. Even if joining a SHAC is not right for them personally, they can still encourage others to learn about SHACs and get involved.

 

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