Redesigning the Health System for Students: Changing our Nation’s Paradigm on Education and Health

January 16, 2014

Addressing key issues through a National Collaborative on Health and Education.

We were thrilled recently to share an update on HSC’s efforts as part of the Working Group on Health and Education as this work transitions to a new phase in the year ahead. This Working Group, convened by former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin at HSC’s recommendation, has focused on ways that our health and education systems can work together to help close the achievement gap and reverse the trends that, unless we make some significant changes, will lead today’s children to live shorter and less-healthy lives than their parents.

HSC President and CEO Rochelle Davis served as co-chair of the Working Group with Jeff Levi, chair of the Prevention Advisory Group and executive director of the Trust for America's Health. The former Surgeon General charged this group with a set of tasks that, in essence, mean changing our nation’s paradigm around school health. The Working Group took this charge to heart and has recommended a set of priorities for moving forward, including a proposal to form a National Collaborative on Health and Education.

As the new year begins, we invite you to join us in thinking through some of the key issues that the Working Group has identified.

One of the biggest and most multi-faceted issues the Working Group has identified is re-thinking the way we provide health services to students, both in the medical setting and in schools.

The group asks: How can health delivery systems, both in the traditional health sector and in schools, be redesigned to better support the delivery of health promotion and disease management services to improve the health outcomes for students? More specifically:

  • How can schools be incorporated into delivery system reforms and other new models of care emerging from the Affordable Care Act and other innovations being tested for the delivery of physical and mental health services and health promotion and prevention?

  • How can the health care system better support schools in creating the conditions of health for students?

  • How can the educational and health sectors develop and sustain workforces so that they both comprehend the importance of education and health in shared success and can identify ways to integrate education and health at whatever level they are working while also having support for their own wellness needs?

  • What new models of practice are needed in both the health sector and schools to support an integrated delivery of care model?

  • What workforce models can support inter-professional collaboration?

We don’t know the answers yet to these big questions, but we do believe these are right and important questions to ask.

Why do these questions matter? Most fundamentally, they are questions about ensuring that all children have the opportunity to be healthy and ready to learn.

The reality today is that the school setting often does not support health. Too many students spend their days in buildings with unhealthy air, limited opportunities for physical activity and inadequate access to fresh water, nutritious food or a school nurse.

Many students come to school with one or more health problems that compromise their ability to learn. The prevalence of chronic diseases — including asthma, obesity and diabetes — has doubled among children over the past several decades. This has implications not only for children’s long-term health but also for their opportunities to learn and succeed at school.

This challenge is especially critical in light of the nation’s vast health disparities. Low-income and minority students are at increased risk of health problems that hinder learning. These students are more likely to attend schools with unhealthy environments. Unless we address these disparities in health status and school environments, efforts to close the education achievement gap will be compromised.

At HSC, our perspective on these issues is informed by our work on the ground with teachers, nurses, principals, parents and many others. Conversations with nurses in our School Nurse Leadership Program, for example, have shaped our perspective on how students currently receive medical care in school and how their needs could be addressed more fully and efficiently. Our work with teachers in our Fit to Learn program has helped us see the power of professional development in creating a culture of wellness at a school.

Through Health in Mind, we learned about innovative efforts across the country to address some of these challenges. To learn more about these inspiring efforts, check out these case studies from HSC’s blog:

We look forward to exploring these questions in the year ahead.