The Role of Healthy Schools in Education
The research is clear: healthy students are better learners. They miss fewer days of school, are better able to focus in class and are more ready to learn.
Low-income students and students of color are at increased risk for health problems that impede learning. These students also are more likely to attend schools with unhealthy environments and limited health services.
Education policies and practices can be powerful tools for building school environments that support healthy learners.
Educators’ Support Is Essential
Educators overwhelmingly support efforts to improve the health outcomes—and therefore educational outcomes—of students and schools. School administrators have also recognized that creating a positive school environment is fundamental to the enterprise of education.
However, government policies sometimes hinder educators from transforming their schools and practices. Despite clear evidence documenting the benefits of healthy school environments, policies and guidelines at the national, state and district level can make it challenging for schools to integrate emerging best practices for supporting students’ healthy growth and development—and thus their learning—into the daily routine of school.
Cultivating health and wellness in schools will require leadership and commitment at many levels, from classrooms, to district leaders, to state and national policymakers. Fortunately, with recent changes in education policy, there are substantial opportunities to overcome these barriers and increase access to positive school environments for students across the country.
What We’re Doing
Making Student Wellness an Integral Part of Education
Healthy Schools Campaign helps to shape policies and practices at the local, state and federal level to improve student health.
HSC assists states around the nation in implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to its full potential in ways that ensure students are educated in healthy, equitable learning environments. That means providing state education agencies with frameworks that empower them to:
- Track clearly-defined, school-by-school health data as part of annual report cards
- Create strong accountability systems that provide support to low-performing schools
- Disseminate best practices for classroom management and school-based healthcare
Addressing Chronic Absenteeism
HSC provides resources to state officials, school districts and educators to help them assess and address the root causes of chronic absenteeism. While COVID-19 has disrupted school attendance and the use of chronic absenteeism data as an accountability metric, using attendance data to support improved academic achievement is still an effective strategy. By analyzing chronic absenteeism data, schools can target attention and resources on students who are chronically absent and provide necessary supports and assistance to make sure that they are in school, healthy and ready to learn.
Leveraging Medicaid Funds
HSC advises state and local officials on how to better leverage Medicaid funds to expand school-based health services that provide medical care to students free of charge. We help policymakers understand how existing laws in their state might limit Medicaid reimbursement for school health and how to make the federal funding more accessible to school health providers.
Building Cross-sector Partnerships
We have helped to build coalitions and cross-sector partnerships to promote healthy school environments. That includes advising school educational agencies on how to collaborate with state health departments and departments of mental health to develop better school-based health strategies and data sharing. At a local level, we instruct school officials on how to partner with local medical providers and community-based resources to create coordinated approaches to improving student health.
Advocating for Wellness in Chicago Public Schools
HSC advocates for policies that support healthy classrooms across Chicago Public Schools. We have successfully supported the adoption of district-wide health and wellness policies in Chicago that strengthen physical education, improve access to quality school meals, transform schoolyards and create healthier classrooms. We continue to work to empower school stakeholders—teachers administrators, students and parents—to push for positive school environments.
What You Can Do
Your voice matters in urging national, state and school leaders to prioritize student health and wellness in education policy and practices. We invite you to learn more and lend your voice to the dialogue about healthy school environments:
- The Every Student Succeeds Act is due for reauthorization after the 2020-2021 school year. Sign up for our Education Policy newsletter (in the sidebar) to stay up-to-date on advocacy efforts around this policy.
- Download our Schools Are Key to Improving Children’s Health brief, which offers an easy-to-understand but comprehensive look at the new funding stream offered by the opportunity to expand school health services.
- Download our Addressing the Health-Related Causes of Chronic Absenteeism: A Toolkit for Action, which focuses on identifying and and providing strategies for addressing the health-related reasons students miss school.
- Connect with us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@healthyschools)
Access related resources below, or go to our main Resource Center to access resources across all of our program and policy areas.
State Policy Opportunities: Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems to Support Students
October 2022 | This report, developed with Mental Health America, identifies 24 state policy opportunities to address student mental health needs. Specific recommendations, and the numerous state examples and resources provided, offer opportunities to advance comprehensive school mental health (CSMH) systems — a multi-tiered approach that integrates mental health services and supports within school settings and uses school-community collaborations to provide a continuum of mental health services.
Making Connections Backpack – Prevention Institute
The Making Connections Backpack is a resource library from Prevention Institute for those engaged in building a gendered and community-level approach to improving mental …
Addressing the Health-Related Causes of Chronic Absenteeism: A Toolkit for Action
This document focuses on providing educators, particularly school district decision-makers, with knowledge and practical guidance for creating meaningful change to address health-related chronic absenteeism.
State Education Policy that Supports Student Health and Wellness
August 2019 | This document describes key sections of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) with the highest potential to impact student health, outlines current state efforts, highlights best practices and provides recommendations for advancing this work at the state and local level.
ESSA Implementation: Key Opportunities to Support Health and Wellness
Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides a number of policy levers for promoting healthy schools and student wellness. This document summarizes Healthy Schools Campaign’s analysis of those opportunities.