Incorporating health and wellness into the school culture and environment, closing the achievement gap
Each morning, as children enter thousands of classrooms across the country, schools are expected to deliver on the promise that a quality education will lead to a productive, prosperous life. Teachers are working hard to share lessons and build the knowledge, skills and habits that will help students succeed beyond the classroom.
But millions of students are not able to attend school in environments that support the connection between health and learning. They cannot engage in physical activity during the day, their school buildings lack healthy air, access to fresh water, nutritious food and/or a school nurse; all of which are important to supporting academic achievement. On top of that, one out of every four students has one or more health problems, such as asthma or diabetes, that further undermine her ability to focus in school or even attend.
Health and education systems are inextricably linked, yet they are missing key opportunities to work together to support student health and learning. If we can incorporate health and wellness into the school culture and environment, we can help close the academic achievement gap and ensure this generation does not become the first in American history to live shorter, 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 steps we can take to support the success and well-being of the next generation.
This is the driving force of the National Collaborative on Education and Health, a group that HSC and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) launched last week. The Collaborative will bring together advocates, policymakers, school stakeholders and funders to work towards 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 is also about building the health sector’s capacity to engage the community, including schools, in truly promoting health.
Last week, more than 20 health and education leaders from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. for the inaugural meeting of the Collaborative’s steering committee. Members of the committee include 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. This diverse and knowledgeable group will play an important role in moving the conversation around school health forward.
This milestone builds on the charge former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin gave in response to HSC’s Health in Mind report. Dr. Benjamin challenged the Working Group on Health and Education to reimagine our nation’s paradigm on school health. One of this Working Group’s key proposals was to create a National Collaborative on Education and Health and this proposal became a reality last week with the launch of the Collaborative.
“Over the next year the Collaborative will explore how we can redesign health delivery systems to meet students’ needs in schools and how metrics can support health and learning in our schools,” says Davis. “We have an opportunity to leverage expertise from this important group of leaders to transform the way we think about school health.”