A Global Conversation on School Health

April 11, 2014

School health is a global issue made up of work done in local communities every day.

By Mark Bishop, Vice President, Policy

Last month I had the honor of attending a global school health conference hosted by ASCD and the International School Health Network (ISHN). While the framing for the conference focused on discussing their drafted statement on global school health issues, it turned out to be so much more.

One of the opportunities at this type of conference is to learn about how other countries are addressing school health challenges. This ranged from ways Canadian leaders worked to forge relationships between their education and health ministries to inner-city strategies connecting students to health care in Baltimore. In one school in Nairobi, the largest challenge was how to provide students with access to toilets.

It was clear that wherever you look, schools are challenged by the universal truth that healthy students will be more successful students. The range of issues is daunting but there was also a shared recognition: schools can’t solve these problems alone. To really take on these issues, we need to increase collaboration between the school sector and other sectors that support students' well-being, especially the health sector.

Students suffering from hunger, poor sanitation, unsafe environments or undiagnosed vision or dental issues all face barriers to learning. And schools serving these students struggle to achieve their core purpose of providing access to learning and growth.

Another universal truth is that schools alone lack adequate resources to address these issues. Few schools have the tools, resources or capacity to ensure access to a health-promoting environment.

The challenge ASCD and ISHN presented to the group was to create a vision for how we can better integrate health and education on a global level. It lead to an interesting yet evolving discussion on how we can all work together more effectively.

The fact is, there is no global initiative that will adequately address the broad range of issues that confront school health in each of our communities. But it is tremendously valuable to have this conversation and learn from each other.

The integration between health and education that we discussed connects very closely with the work HSC is doing on the national level with Health in Mind and the National Collaborative for Education and Health . It also connects closely with our work at the local level to support healthy environments in Chicago schools. At the conference I was honored to share the perspective we’ve gained from our work with health and education leaders from across North America.

This is both a global and national conversation but most fundamentally, it is a local conversation. It is the work we are each doing on the ground in our own communities that makes up this worldwide movement for more fully integrated health and education systems and healthier school environments. We can learn from each other’s unique challenges, share best practices and be driven by our shared mission to ensure that all students have access to healthy school environments — whether in Chicago, Baltimore or Nairobi.