The conditions that create a healthy school environment do not appear by accident or luck; they result from policy decisions made at the federal, state and local levels. The federal government plays an important role in providing a policy environment that can support student health and education.
In light of policies proposed by the current administration that threaten student health and wellness, our Civic and Business Advisory Committee hosted a breakfast discussion about the future of the health and education policy landscape.
We were honored to welcome to our panel Joan Alker, the executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families and a research professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy; Dr. Christopher Edley, Jr., the Honorable William H. Orrick, Jr. Distinguished Professor at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law and the president of the Opportunity Institute; and Rochelle Davis, the president and CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign. Our panel was moderated by Mick Dumke, a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Gayla Brockman, the president and CEO of Michael Reese Health Trust and the new chair of the Civic and Business Advisory Committee, opened the event by setting the context. “Congress and the Trump Administration are taking many actions to change the current policies as they relate to health and education, she said. “For those of us who have been working hard to ensure that both health and education policies are addressing the vast inequities that currently exist, there is much concern.”
Dumke opened the discussion by asking each panelist to talk about threats and opportunities moving forward: “Each of you, in your own field, has addressed and cares deeply about the idea of equity. From your perspective and the work that you do in education, health or at the intersection of those two things, what do you see as the biggest game changer or idea that could in a fundamental way address equity and close the achievement gap in our country? And, given the recent election, what do you see as the biggest threat to or opportunity for moving that work forward?”
Dr. Edley started the panel by reiterating the importance of health. “Health, and especially mental health, are so critical, especially for poor kids in areas of concentrated poverty, ” he said. Alker, an expert on healthcare issues, talked about the fact that 95 percent of children now have health insurance—a historically high level—and how we now need to defend that. Davis explained the important link between a healthy school environment and education and how they can both address equity. “We have the opportunity to leverage the power of school wellness to create greater equity in health and education and ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive,” she said.
The panel also discussed what advocates can do to promote an agenda of equity. “People need to do what they’re comfortable doing and recognize that there are people doing complementary work,” said Dr. Edley. Alker stressed the need to not worry about creating the perfect plan, but to get started working right away.
The meeting was hosted by the Healthy Schools Campaign Civic and Business Advisory Committee, a dynamic group of civic, business and philanthropic leaders who are committed to the health, education and success of Chicago’s students.
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Dr. Charles Basch: Healthier Students Are Better Learners