Schools need to know what problems their students are facing in order to address them effectively, says Katie Horrigan, Director of Community Education & Outreach at Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee. While this seems simple enough, it underscores the importance of needs assessments, a process that helps schools identify problems and opportunities. And because students of color are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions and are less likely to attend schools with the resources to address them, needs assessments can be a powerful tool in addressing health and academic achievement disparities.
Establishing partnerships with social service agencies, public health departments, hospitals and other community organizations can help schools more effectively identify and address problems, such as chronic health conditions, that affect student success. That’s exactly what Milwaukee Public Schools and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin have been doing since 2010.
Currently, the partnership covers 10 schools in five low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods. At the foundation of this partnership is the information gathered from each school’s needs assessment. Most recently, says Horrigan, they’ve been using the ASCD’s School Improvement Tool. which focuses on five tenets of WSCC: Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported, Challenged, as well as Sustainability. These results can help schools understand the strengths and opportunities within their environments and get a clearer idea of what to focus on. “It’s going to give them a better picture of where resources need to go to address certain challenges,” says Horrigan.
The schools have the opportunity to work with a School Health Coordinator from Children’s, who partners with them to review data that they have captured and provide additional training. Children’s also provides full-time school nurses in partner schools and community health navigators in the partner neighborhoods to help address both chronic disease and the social determinants of health.
We’re so excited to see the great work happening in Milwaukee and are excited to see how schools in other states use needs assessment, especially those required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, to better serve their students. Do you know of a school using needs assessments to improve health and wellness for students? Let us know!