Transforming School Health through the National Collaborative on Education and Health

November 26, 2014

In 2014, we took important steps toward strengthening collaboration between the health and education sectors by co-convening, in partnership with Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), the National Collaborative on Education and Health.

At Healthy Schools Campaign, we know that healthy students are better learners. Our health system and our education system have the potential to work together in ways that can help close the academic achievement gap and reverse the trends, like childhood obesity, that can lead today’s children to live shorter and less-healthy lives than their parents.

Recognizing this connection and acting to strengthen collaboration between the health and education sectors is one of the most important ways we can support the success and well-being of the next generation. But how do we make it happen?

This past year, we took important steps toward accomplishing this by co-convening, in partnership with Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), the National Collaborative on Education and Health. The Collaborative brings together advocates, policymakers, school stakeholders and funders to work toward more fully integrating education and health. This means building schools’ capacity to address the needs that exist today and the needs we can’t yet anticipate. It’s also about building the health sector’s capacity to engage the community, including schools, in truly promoting health.

Since its launch in February 2014, the Collaborative has brought together over 70 individuals representing more than 40 national, state and local organizations who are working together to transform the way we think about school health. Some of the Collaborative’s key accomplishments in 2014 include :

  • Formation of the National Steering Committee. The launch of the Collaborative was marked by the inaugural meeting of the Collaborative’s steering committee in February. The steering committee is comprised of 20 health and education leaders from across the country including leadership from American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Governor’s Association, NAACP, the American Academy of Pediatrics and five federal agencies which are serving as ex officio members. The steering committee is co-chaired by HSC’s president and CEO, Rochelle Davis, and TFAH’s executive director, Jeff Levi.
  • Development of health and wellness metrics for use in education public reporting systems. As a part of the Collaborative a Metrics Working Group was formed and developed a menu of options for health and wellness indicators that can be used by the education sector in public reporting. These options include health proxy indicators, such as chronic absenteeism, as well as health policy and practice indicators, such as days per week of physical education, access to physical and mental health services, and whether or not a school has a farm-to-school program. The working group also identified chronic absenteeism as a school health metric that resonates with both the health and education sectors and can drive changes that result in healthier school environments.
  • Advancement of partnerships between the health and education sectors. A Health Systems Working Group was also formed to identify opportunities within the transforming health care system for catalyzing partnerships between the health and education sectors. The working group created a set of tools and resources — including a model for effective health and education partnerships — that can be shared with stakeholders across the country to support collaboration between the health and education sectors.

In the next year, HSC anticipates continuing to work with and support the efforts of the Collaborative members who have expressed a strong interest in implementing the recommendations of the Collaborative in their communities.

For example, we plan to work with state and local education agencies represented on the Metrics Working Group to integrate health and wellness measures into their education public reporting systems. In addition, we plan to work with United Way Worldwide, a member of the Health Systems Working Group and steering committee, to pilot the tools developed by the Health Systems Working Group to engage local leaders in a dialogue about the importance of increasing access to school health services and programs.

Full reports from both working groups will be released in 2015 and new focus areas for the Collaborative will be set by the steering committee at its upcoming December meeting. In the past year, the Collaborative has made important progress toward transforming the conditions of health in schools and HSC looks forward to continuing to work with the Collaborative to advance this effort in the coming year.