New Ways to Improve Health and Wellness in Low-Performing Schools

December 10, 2013

How one program could make a big difference for low-performing schools.

We know that healthier students are more successful students. We also know that the lowest-performing schools in the U.S. face disproportionate health challenges, from asthma to vision problems to obesity. Our challenge: How do we bridge the gap and create a health-promoting environment for all students, including those in low-performing schools?

The U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant program (SIG) supports the nation’s lowest-performing public schools in a variety of vital ways, with $5 billion for school improvement efforts. Given that the students served by SIG are predominantly low-income and minority, SIG could be a particularly important avenue for addressing health and wellness issues within these schools. But while health and wellness is mentioned in the SIG program, it is not highlighted as a key strategy for improving academic achievement.

That’s why Healthy Schools Campaign created a series of recommendations that would integrate health and wellness into the SIG program. We arrived at these specific recommendations after meeting with a group of health advocates last July to discuss how to integrate health and wellness into the SIG program. The Department of Education’s Office of School Turnaround, the office responsible for overseeing SIG, presented and participated in the meeting along with over 20 health and education stakeholders. We discussed a number of strategies, including providing school staff with health-focused professional development, holding developing health metrics on school report cards that hold schools accountable, and making sure students in SIG schools have access to mental and physical health services.

Ultimately the group identified four key strategies through which the Office of School Turnaround can better promote health in the schools through the SIG program, which we’re excited to share:

  1. Integrate health and wellness measures into school report cards, providing schools with the support necessary to assess their school’s current health and wellness environment and identify the health and wellness issues that are of greatest concern to their particular student population;

  1. Provide teachers and school leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to identify and address student health issues;

  1. Allow SIG funding to be used to support the development of school health infrastructure, including hiring specialized instructional support personnel, such as school nurses and school social workers, and implementing an electronic health records system;

  1. Include health and wellness measures in the monitoring plan for SIG grantees, and identify case studies of grantees who have integrated strategies for supporting health and wellness as a part of their turnaround efforts.

HSC developed a report on this topic that includes the group’s full recommendations, which you can download here. HSC recently shared these recommendations with the Department of Education and will be engaging with the Department to support implementation. By integrating health and wellness into existing programs targeted at improving low-performing schools, we can prevent health disparities and remove barriers to academic success in schools across the country.