How Connecticut Is Addressing Students’ Mental and Physical Health

  • October 9, 2019
A Girl Smiles At Us And Sits At A School Desk. She Holds A Piece Of Paper In Her Left Hand And A Pencil In Her Right Hand.

HSC is pleased to announce our latest report: State Education Policy that Supports Student Health and Wellness. This document provides an update on how states are approaching health and wellness in education policy and practice by leveraging opportunities found in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the national education law. The report looks at how state education policy can impact student health, highlighting best practices and recommendations for advancing this work at the state and local level.

Throughout the guide, you will find examples of states and local school districts that are doing amazing work, like Connecticut.

Since 2011, Connecticut has been reforming its education system with an emphasis on targeting resources to areas of greatest need, culminating in the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE)’s five year strategic education plan, Ensuring Equity: Excellence for all Connecticut Students. The plan opens with a promise to students, and the very first element of that promise focuses on meeting students’ non-academic needs—including supporting their mental and physical health—so they can be happy, healthy and ready to learn.

Connecticut used this strategic plan and planning process to help define its ESSA plan. Connecticut was one of the 36 states that included chronic absence as a measure in their state education accountability system. They also included physical fitness, as measured by an assessment that is similar to the Fitnessgram, as a separate measure. The state’s ESSA plan also includes an Early Indication Tool (EIT) that applies sophisticated statistical approaches to longitudinal data to identify students at risk of not meeting academic milestones; the EIT offers district- and school-level dashboards that present specific EIT information in a visual, user-friendly manner that enable schools to provide targeted supports. For schools identified for improvement, the state provides support to the districts to create plans with strategic focus areas, which may include chronic absenteeism and lead to health-related interventions.

According to Charlene Russell-Tucker, Chief Operating Officer for CSDE, the state’s focus on “well rounded students” has helped districts form innovative, intentional and authentic cross-sector partnerships, because schools understand they “cannot do it alone.” In addition, she points out that using performance indicators such as physical fitness and chronic absence “fosters system wide data-informed root-cause analysis and yearlong strategic planning to improve outcomes.” A key focus for the state has been to reduce health-related chronic absences.

Some of Connecticut’s innovative programs in this area include a Chronic Absence Peer Learning Network that helps a cadre of district leaders and district attendance teams unpack chronic absence data, identify root causes for absences and design and implement interventions to help remove barriers to coming to school. CSDE also convenes key cross-sector partners, including pediatricians, school nurses, school-based health centers, hospitals and others, together with school district leaders, for an open dialogue to problem-solve issues around health-related school absences. Through this work, Russell-Tucker explains, these networks can determine actions that “health sector and schools can take together to reduce the number of absences pertaining to health issues.”

We commend Connecticut for their progress through these exciting initiatives. Find out more about how states are advancing student health and wellness through innovative implementation of state education policy in the report!