Why study Health Education?

Healthy students are better learners (Michael, 2015). Standards-based Health Education contributes to supporting the whole child as part of a well-rounded educational experience. The goal of Health Education is to develop health-literate individuals by equipping all students with essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes to make health-enhancing decisions and practice healthy behaviors as part of a healthy lifestyle. Health literacy is an individual’s capacity “to access, understand, appraise, apply and advocate for health information and services in order to maintain or enhance one’s own health and the health of others.” (SHAPE, 2018)

Hawaii’s youth face many challenges as they grow up. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that:

  • 10 percent of Hawaii’s high school students attempted suicide in the past 12 months.

  • 29.5 percent of Hawaii’s high school students felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities in the past 12 months.

  • 42.7 percent of Hawaii’s high school students used a condom during last sexual intercourse (among students who were currently sexually active).

  • 42.3 percent of Hawaii’s high school students ever used electronic vapor products.

  • 14.6 percent of Hawaii’s high school students were electronically bullied in the past 12 months.

Quality health education equips students with the capacity to address their current and future health needs and challenges. Practicing health-enhancing behaviors can contribute to healthy relationships and a positive quality of life by preventing and reducing the risk of disease and injury.

Core Principles of Health Education

Develops Health Literacy Skills

The primary focus of high-quality standards-based health education curriculum, instruction, and assessment are to develop health literacy skills to proficiency within and across grade levels:

  • Advocacy

  • Self-management

  • Interpersonal communication

  • Decision-making

  • Goal-setting

  • Analyzing influences

  • Accessing information, products, and services

  • Comprehending concepts

The Lōkahi Wheel, developed by the Kamehameha Schools’ Safe and Drug Free Program, illustrates the Hawaiian concept of balance, harmony, and unity for the self in relationship to the body, the mind, the spirit, and the rest of the world.

The Lōkahi Wheel, developed by the Kamehameha Schools’ Safe and Drug Free Program, illustrates the Hawaiian concept of balance, harmony, and unity for the self in relationship to the body, the mind, the spirit, and the rest of the world.

"The skills of the National Health Education Standards provide the framework for increasing positive health behaviors by teaching skills that are relevant and applicable to daily life" (SHAPE America, 2018).

Students are provided with regular opportunities and time to practice these skills and engage in peer feedback and self-assessment. Student-centered, interactive instructional strategies are utilized to engage students in learning skills within a social context. Examples of participatory methods include role play, large- and small-group discussions, debates, cooperative learning, problem-solving, and simulations (CDC, 2018).

The following model for skill development was developed from the National Health Education Standards and the World Health Organization. Teachers should include all five elements of this model when designing meaningful learning opportunities for students to practice and reinforce health skills.

  1. Discuss the importance of the skill, its relevance, and its relationship to other learned skills.

  2. Present steps for development of the skill.

  3. Model the skill using relevant, real-life scenarios.

  4. Practice the skill using relevant, real-life scenarios.

  5. Provide feedback and reinforcement. (Benes, 2016)

It is critical to ensure that students have a clear understanding of what they are learning and what successful learning looks like throughout their learning experiences. Standards-based assessments for health education provide evidence of students’ current level of performance related to health skill performance and functional knowledge acquisition. Assessments should include scenarios that students might experience in real life (i.e., at home, in school, and in the community). A variety of assessments (e.g., performance task, role play, advocacy campaign, constructed response) may be used to allow all students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do in relation to the National Health Education Standards: Achieving Excellence (NHES) and performance indicators..

Builds Functional Knowledge

The health literacy skills of the NHES "provide the framework for increasing positive health behaviors by teaching skills that are relevant and applicable to daily life. These, paired with accurate and developmentally appropriate information, based on student need and derived from local data, provide the context for skill development and the foundation for a comprehensive health education program" (SHAPE, 2018).

While the primary focus of Health Education is the development of health skills, these skills must be addressed in conjunction with functional information in the context of Priority Risk Topics. Standards-based Health Education must be age and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, and provide factual information in all Priority Risk Topics:

  • Mental and Emotional Health

  • Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

  • Personal Health and Wellness

  • Safety (Unintentional Injury Prevention)

  • Violence Prevention

  • Tobacco Use Prevention

  • Alcohol and Other Drug Use Prevention

  • Sexual Health and Responsibility

Functional information provides the context in which students learn and apply skills. It is relevant and applicable information that directly contributes to maintaining and enhancing their health and the health of others. This information is utilized to help students develop health skills in class.

When determining functional information that supports skill development, educators may consider asking “What information about this topic do my students need in order to apply the skill being covered effectively?,” and “When my students learn this information, how will they use it to benefit their health or the health of those around them?” (Benes, 2016). As functional information is processed and internalized, it becomes functional knowledge that students can apply in real-life situations.

Nurtures Attitudes that Support Positive Health Behaviors

In addition to developing skills and functional knowledge, students have opportunities to examine their own perspectives, beliefs, and values and engage in learning opportunities that strengthen health-enhancing attitudes about promoting healthy behaviors and preventing and reducing risky behaviors.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is administered in odd-numbered years to Hawai‘i public school students in grades 6–12 to monitor priority behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and young adults (Youth Risk, 2018). Age and developmentally appropriate use of YRBS data within health education classes may be used to build student interest in a health topic, challenge youth perceptions on health behaviors, and support health skill development (e.g., evaluate and analyze health information, advocate for the health of self and others). The YRBS data may also be used to identify key areas of focus for curriculum design and professional development.

Addresses Students’ Needs and Interests

Health education occurs within inclusive and supportive learning environments that foster a culture of learning and address the diverse learning needs of all students. A respectful and caring learning environment allows students to feel safe to share and reflect on their perspectives, interact with others, take risks to enhance their learning, and ask sensitive questions.

Teachers work collaboratively to analyze local health data and student feedback to strengthen and refine their curriculum, instruction, and assessments. Teachers utilize instructional materials, strategies, and assessments that are appropriate for students’ age; social, emotional, mental, physical, and academic development needs; and culturally responsive and inclusive. Learning experiences should be designed to encourage students to share their thoughts and opinions, develop critical thinking skills, and engage in creative expression (CDC, 2018).

Where is Health Education headed?

The National Health Education Standards: Achieving Excellence (NHES) were adopted by the Hawai'i State Board of Education in December 2019. A three-year implementation rollout begins in School Year (SY) 2020-2021, with full implementation of the NHES in SY 2023-2024.

The HIDOE is focusing on communicating resources and appropriate training to support schools and the full range of educators through in-person and virtual venues. Additional resources to support best practices are in development. The HIDOE school staff may contact their District Health and Physical Education Resource Teachers for training and embedded professional learning opportunities, such as coaching, modeling, and co-teaching support.

Health Education Resources

Featured Resources

Board of Education policies, HIDOE guidelines

Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment


Benes, S., & Alperin, H. (2016). The essentials of teaching health education: Curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (August 4, 2018). Characteristics of effective health education curricula. Retrieved from
Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards. (2007). National health education standards: Achieving excellence (2nd ed.). Athens, GA: The American Cancer Society.
Michael, S. L., Merlo, C. L., Basch, C. E., Wentzel, K. R., & Wechsler, H. (2015, October 6). Critical connections: health and academics. Journal of School Health, 85(11), 740-758. Retrieved from
Society of Health and Physical Educators [SHAPE] America. (2018). Health education is a critical component of a well-rounded education [Position statement]. Reston, VA: Author. Retrieved from
Society of Health and Physical Educators [SHAPE] America. (2018, July 19). What is health literacy? Retrieved from
Youth risk behavior survey reports. (2018, July 19). Retrieved from