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Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework - October 1999


The purpose of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework is to provide guidance for Massachusetts school districts in the acquisition of the knowledge, skills, and habits needed by students. Comprehensive health education includes health education, physical education, and family and consumer sciences education. Teachers within these subjects need to work collaboratively with counselors, school nurses, nutrition services staff, other teachers, families, and students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

The Framework synthesizes current research and sets learning standards for students from pre-kindergarten through grade twelve. The Framework presents a broad outline upon which Massachusetts school health curricula, instruction, and locally designed and administered assessments can be based.

Organization of the Health Curriculum Framework

  • The Core Concept presents the fundamental purpose of a comprehensive health curriculum.
  • The Guiding Principles direct and inform health education and the building of school communities that promote the health and well being of students, families, teachers, and staff.
  • The Strands organize the areas included in comprehensive health education as outlined in the Massachusetts General Laws, particularly Chapter 71. (see Appendix B)
  • The PreK-12 Standards define topic oriented content and set expectations for knowledge and skills that students should acquire from their study in health.
  • The Learning Standards reflect measurable student competencies and are grade span specific (PreK-5, 6-8, 9-12). Selected examples are provided in the Framework.

This Health Framework is built upon the work of the panel who developed the first Health Framework. The current Health Framework was developed by a committee of Massachusetts teachers of health, physical education, family and consumer sciences, health educators from higher education, physicians, and school nurses. The Health Framework is intended to be used in conjunction with the other Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks to make connections among all subjects.

There are specific areas of particular relevance to health education. Two of these that are notable are the links between health and school performance, and health education and family involvement.

Education in all subjects can be more effective when health is a priority throughout the school. Health and learning are closely related. Students who are unhealthy or troubled are students whose learning may not be optimal. Because good health is linked with better school performance, schools have a vested interest in preventing risk behaviors that have a negative impact on health 1. For example, students who use tobacco products can experience difficulty concentrating. Alcohol and drug use impairs the brain's ability to process information, form memories, and recall information. Teen pregnancy is related to dropping out of school. Poor nutrition decreases cognitive functioning in the areas of language, concentration, alertness, and attention.

Some students who have participated in school health education programs, compared to similar students who have not participated in such programs, have increased cognitive development and awareness, better school attendance, higher graduation rates, increased goal-setting, and better application of decision-making skills. Certain components of the school health program have also been found to be related even more directly to school performance. For example, after controlling for other explanatory factors, participation in school breakfast programs was associated with increased scores in mathematics, language, and reading, and with decreases in school absence and tardiness. Similar results have been found with students who participated in more comprehensive school health programs. For example, students at risk for school failure who participated in school-linked health and human services had improved grades and earned more credits compared to similar peers who did not receive such services.

Even as adults, education is related to less involvement in certain risk behaviors and higher participation in healthy behaviors. The results of a recent survey conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health among Massachusetts adults found a relationship between more years of education and several health related behaviors, such as lower rates of smoking, eating the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, and participation in recommended levels of physical activity.

Today, Massachusetts students face many potential health problems related to their social environment, but the risk behaviors associated with these problems are largely preventable. Comprehensive health education addresses the knowledge and skills for both reducing risk behaviors and increasing actions and habits that increase wellness.

A major component of comprehensive school health education is parental and family involvement. Parents and families are their children's first and continuing teachers and they influence the health decisions that are made by their children. Family and community involvement is important in the planning of appropriate health education and in strengthening health lessons and skills development. Schools have historically worked side by side with families and communities to promote acceptable standards of conduct and the attributes that foster them, such as civility and being responsible for one's actions. Health education supports this through an emphasis on skills of decision-making, problem-solving, and critical thinking for responsible conduct.

Comprehensive health education occurs in relation to many contextual factors. Health sometimes involves sensitive topics that may have social, economic, genetic, or religious implications. Of note, Massachusetts public schools must notify parents before implementing curriculum that involves human sexuality. The approach of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework is to encourage each district to work with family and community members in the development and implementation of the health education curriculum in the schools of that district.

1The following research is cited in the References and Sources of the Framework.


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Last Updated: October 1, 1999
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