Looking Ahead: National Efforts for 2015

January 12, 2015

The new year is a natural time to pause and take a look around at the national issues, trends and shifts in power that may influence our work in the year ahead.

By Rochelle Davis, HSC President and CEO

The new year is a natural time to pause and take a look around at the national issues, trends and shifts in power that may influence our work in the year ahead. In some ways, our work carries on regardless of outside trends: We’re guided by core values and a time-tested approach. But at the same time, much of our work — particularly with policy and regulatory change — responds to challenges or leverages unique opportunities that come about as a result of political, social and marketplace currents.

In 2015, I have a sense that we’ll be called to defend some hard-won gains for school health, particularly at the national level. For example, policy analysts are already discussing the likelihood of political attacks on health-promoting school food policies. We know it will be as important as ever to stand firm in support of state and local policies that promote physical activity — such as policies calling for daily PE — that make such a difference for kids’ health and learning.

We’ll approach this effort with the model we use across our programs: We empower, advocate and build. In this case, that means empowering stakeholders to speak up about the positive impact of these hard-won gains, advocating for maintaining strong policies, and working to build the capacity, both at individual schools and within our governmental structures, to effectively put these policies in action.

Recently, I reflected on changes to the CDC model for coordinated school health which now reflects an approach centered on the whole child, whole school and whole community. We’ve seen the power of this approach in our work over the years and will continue to make it a central part of what we do in the year ahead, at the national level as well as in our Chicago work.

A few of the many national efforts I’m particularly excited about in 2015 include :

Addressing chronic absenteeism with leaders in education and health. Here at HSC, we work at the intersection of health and education. Now through our work co-convening the National Collaborative on Education and Health (in partnership with Trust for America’s Health), we’re learning about a critical issue that is deeply connected to both sectors: chronic absenteeism. This is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days in a given year, regardless of reason. While metrics currently focus on average daily attendance or chronic truancy, a focus on chronic absenteeism allows us to also support students who may be missing school because of chronic health or social issues. Through the Collaborative, we will work to develop a model intervention that brings together the health, public health and education sectors to address the needs of students who are chronically absent from school.

Fostering national leadership for green cleaning in schools. In 2014, we took significant steps in our green cleaning work. Nearly a decade after first publishing The Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, we launched GreenCleanSchools.org, an online hub for schools going green. We also launched the Green Schools Leadership Council, which brings together award-winning school facility managers to provide guidance to HSC and to schools across the country. In 2015, we’ll build on this momentum with online educational programming and a national green clean schools awards program. We are also taking the exciting step of working with the new Leadership Council to host our first Green Clean Schools Summit.

Addressing health disparities by supporting funding for school health services. Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) removed a key barrier to funding school health services, so that schools are now eligible to receive reimbursement for health services they provide to Medicaid-eligible students. (HSC and many partners advocated for this change for three years.) This change is an important step in addressing the vast health disparities and achievement gap that exist in our country. Low-income and minority students are at increased risk of health issues that can hinder learning. With Medicaid funding available to more schools, school nurses and other health providers can address these issues, helping ensure that students are getting the care they need — and getting back to the classroom healthy and ready to learn. In 2015, HSC will work with CMS and others to support the full implementation of this policy change. (We’ll also be working directly with Chicago Public Schools to re-think their health services system in light of this and other changes.)

As we begin this year, I’d also like to pause to thank the many incredible partners — from national organizations to individual educators, parents, nurses and advocates — who continue to speak up for healthy schools. I’m looking forward to working together in the year ahead.