Documenting the Importance of Environmental Health in Schools

February 18, 2016

Today, children spend most of their waking hours outside of home in school, but not all school environments are healthy. An increasing amount of scientific evidence suggests that the physical environments in which children spend their time have a profound impact on their health and ability to learn.

This past November, a group of parents, experts and advocates from multiple fields gathered in Washington, D.C., to talk about the importance of environmental health in schools and develop research and policy recommendations for addressing the health hazards. This meeting was convened by Healthy Schools Network—with funding support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Education Facilities Clearinghouse, California Endowment, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Mark Bishop, Healthy Schools Campaign’s former Vice President of Policy, participated in this workshop.

The result of this workshop was a meeting summary and report “Environmental Health at School: Ignored Too Long” that outlined the health concerns and the recommendations about how to ensure healthy schools for all students. Key recommendations highlighted in the report include the need for advocacy organizations to coordinate a strategy to better integrate children’s environmental health into education and public health and the need to offer more training and education to families, teachers, principals and advocates around school environmental health. Many of the recommendations included in the report align with work HSC is leading through its work on school environmental health and with the National Collaborative on Education and Health.

The report specifically highlights the role the National Collaborative on Education and Health can play in supporting the integration of chronic absenteeism data within public health and health reporting and accountability systems. Supporting strategies that enable the health and public health sectors to use chronic absenteeism data in a way that supports student health and success will be an important focus of the National Collaborative’s work in 2016.

Here at HSC, we know that providing a healthy environment for all children at school can make an important impact on the lifetime health and academic success of the next generation. Our work around environmental health focuses on highlighting the connection between environments, health and academic success. At the heart of our current national agenda are the following:

  • Documenting the impact with health and wellness metrics
  • Identifying and addressing environmental factors that contribute to chronic absenteeism
  • Urging federal leaders to document the state of our nation’s school buildings and provide resources for needed repair

We applaud the Healthy Schools Network for convening this workshop, and we were honored to have been involved. We’re excited to continue these conversations and work to build on the recommendations discussed at the meeting.