Jessica Herrel '11
Hometown: Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Major: Physical Education with Teacher Licensure
Senior Study Title: Coordinated School Health Program: Living Up to National Expectations?
Advisor: Dr. Terry Simpson
The purpose of this senior study is to discern whether or not the Coordinated School Health Program (CSHP), a health program that helps schools implement a holistic approach to health, is successful in helping to decrease the United States’ childhood obesity rate. Obesity is quickly becoming a national epidemic that needs to be addressed before even more lives are threatened. Schools are at the forefront in providing citizens, specifically teachers and children, with health information in the hopes of turning the table on obesity and obesity-related diseases. The results were inconclusive as to whether or not each state’s Coordinated School Health Programs is lowering childhood obesity rates, because there are simply too many variable affecting obesity. Variables such as socioeconomic status, race, and geographical location are three variables, in particular, that need to be taken into account. If further research on CSHPs are to be conducted, the studies need to be small in nature, in order to reduce the number of differentiating variables.
In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coordinated School Health Program (CSHP) was implemented in several states as a strategy for improving students’ health and learning in our nation’s schools.
But is it working? That’s exactly what MC senior Jessica Herrell wanted to find out.
“I have a huge passion for improving our youth’s health throughout the nation,” said Herrell, who is majoring in physical education with teacher licensure. “I am also quite interested in the implementation of the CSHP throughout the nation, and Tennessee in particular. I am a major proponent of the program, and I wanted to see if it is improving the health of our youth.”
Through her Senior Study, she gives an in-depth look into specific Coordinated School Health Programs to determine whether they are truly lowering childhood obesity rates in the state of Tennessee.
“The Coordinated School Health (CSH) model, with its eight components, tackles almost every aspect of health in schools for students and teachers,” Herrell wrote in her Senior Study. “One of the goals of CSH is to make schools healthier by reducing obesity rates.”
Dr. Terry Simpson, chair of the Division of Education at MC, Professor of Secondary Education and Herrell’s faculty supervisor, said he was excited when Herrell approached him with her idea for her Senior Study.
“In two of my courses, we examine the impact of children’s health on academic achievement and on the condition of society in general,” Simpson said. “In her Senior Study, she collected data that I could use in my courses.”
Herrell’s Senior Study gives an overview and history of the CSHP since its implementation in 2001. It also provides a comparative discussion of the states with the highest childhood overweight and obesity rates (Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, and Tennessee) and lowest childhood overweight and obesity rates (Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, Minnesota and Iowa) throughout the nation and tries to determine whether the CSHP is, in fact, lowering childhood obesity rates in the U.S.
Herrell had hoped to find out that the program was significantly reducing childhood obesity rates in the U.S., but she said her results showed something more important than the CSHP.
“They showed that there are entirely too many variables when analyzing obesity, and that other factors need to be taken into account when determining the effectiveness of a large-scale school health program,” she said. “Socioeconomic status, race and geographical location are three variables in particular that need to be taken into account.”
The direction of Herrell’s thesis changed several times throughout the course of the project. First, she was going to study school districts in the southern Appalachian region of East Tennessee, but she soon realized that she should examine selected school districts across the state. She then decided to include the southeastern region of the U.S., and finally, she decided that she needed to include other regions in the U.S.
“I was impressed by how Jessica matured academically and by her unrelenting effort to find answers to her questions,” Simpson said. “She was desperate to find a school district or region where the school health program made a positive difference in the health and well-being of children, but she could not – the significant correlation was always poverty. Jessica discovered that as a researcher, she had to be true to the data, no matter where it led.”
While Herrell was disappointed that her results did not fully support her hypothesis, both she and Simpson felt that she grew as a result of the project.
“First, she came to realize that just because a curriculum program looks good in theory, it does not always result in the change we want in the lives of our children – we have to be honest about the effectiveness of our programs,” Simpson said. “Second, she discovered how difficult it is to change culture in any part of our society.”
Simpson also learned from Herrell’s Senior Study.
“We can equip teachers to be top in their field, we can build new schools in every community, and we design curriculum to meet the objectives we desire, but the chains of poverty still may not be broken,” he said.
Herrell graduates from Maryville College in May 2011, after she spends a semester completing her student teaching at Maryville Middle School and Maryville High School.
She said she is considering several options for a career, and teaching is one of them. She also hopes to be a Coordinated School Health supervisor in the future, and she feels confident that her Senior Study will help her in her career.
“I believe my Senior Study will help me immensely as an educator, because I will be working closely with Coordinated School Health professionals to assess and improve the health of the people I come in contact with at the schools,” she said.