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Whole-Child Approach Key to Ensuring Children are Life-Ready

An Interview with Amy Johnson, Chief Development Officer, The Cooper Institute

In 2018, the Vision Impact Institute and The Cooper Institute began a collaboration to raise awareness about the importance of good vision and physical fitness to improve health for the “whole-child” and impact their success in the classroom and beyond. Funded by The Rosewood Foundation, the collaboration is now in its second year.

We recently sat down with Amy Johnson, Chief Development Officer of The Cooper Institute, to get her perspective on the collaboration and the importance of working together for the health of children.

VII: Tell us about your mission at The Cooper Institute?

CI:   The Cooper Institute is a nonprofit, based in Dallas, Texas, dedicated to the science of physical fitness and the many ways fitness improves our quality of life. Through research, education and advocacy, our goal is to help people at any age live longer, healthier lives.

VII: As a research organization, how does data drive your work?

CI:   Science is always evolving. The more we learn, the more we can improve the lives of others. We’ve always said that we can’t manage what we can’t measure. This is why we measure youth fitness with FitnessGram by The Cooper Institute. It’s also why we continue to add patient data to our Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS), which is now the largest and longest-running study in the world with measured fitness. As our databases grow, our researchers develop a deeper understanding of how fitness works to prevent or reduce disease. The programs and projects we undertake are all rooted in scientific research because data drives decisions.

VII: How did The Cooper Institute decide to add the topic of vision to its current focus on childhood fitness?

CI:   We are passionate about whole-child health and wellness. For us, that starts with fitness, but we recognize that vision plays a key role as well. Students with vision problems often aren’t as physically active and both vision and fitness are critically important to academic achievement. The late Caroline Rose Hunt, founder of The Rosewood Foundation, was an advocate for vision correction and a champion for children in the community. Lynn Mahurin, Vice President of The Rosewood Foundation, is the convener. She saw an opportunity to connect the right people who share a common goal – to improve youth health in a big way.

VII: Your focus is on whole-child health. Why is it so important to discuss children’s health in that context and how does vision fit into that conversation?

CI:   The “whole-child health” concept is part of a larger framework by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC). The model emphasizes community support for schools and the connection between health and academic achievement. Physical education and physical activity are one of the 10 components of health and wellness in this model. The main unifying theme is that healthy children are more likely to be successful. Vision and fitness play such an important role in a student’s physical health and mental well-being, which makes the path to academic success that much easier.

VII: What role do educators have as advocates for children’s health?

CI:   Educators are the first line of defense. Our children often spend more waking time with their teachers than they do with their parents. Since teachers are the ones who measure academic success, they are usually the first ones to notice if a student is struggling. Poor vision and changes in behavior are just some of the many signs that teachers look for. However, teachers can’t be solely responsible for student health. Student success happens most often when parents, teachers and the community work together to improve student health.

VII: What do you hope to accomplish through the collaboration?

CI:   We want children to be the healthiest and most successful they can be. Healthy, active kids perform better in school and are more equipped to deal with the challenges of life. We aren’t just concerned about their performance as students. We want students who are life-ready, whether that means going to college, going into military service, or going straight into the workforce. The healthier they are, the more successful and productive they will be as young adults.

Good health, including fitness and vision, is critical at any age and becomes even more important as we grow older. By looking out for the future of our children, we are also looking out for our collective future.

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