Integrating Health and Education: A Look at the Early Learning Sector

  • February 25, 2014
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Ensuring that early learning supports health.

We were thrilled recently to share an update on HSC’s efforts as part of the Working Group on Health and Education as this work transitions to a new phase in the year ahead. This Working Group, convened by former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin at HSC’s recommendation, has focused on ways that our health and education systems can work together to help close the achievement gap and reverse the trends that, unless we make some significant changes, will lead today’s children to live shorter and less healthy lives than their parents.

HSC President and CEO Rochelle Davis served as co-chair of the Working Group with Jeff Levi, chair of the Prevention Advisory Group and executive director of the Trust for America's Health. The former Surgeon General charged this group with a set of tasks that, in essence, mean changing our nation’s paradigm around school health. The Working Group took this charge to heart and has recommended a set of priorities for moving forward, including a proposal to form a National Collaborative on Education and Health.

We invite you to join us in thinking through some of the key issues that the Working Group has identified.

At HSC, we know that the air children breathe, the food they eat and the opportunities they have to be physically active at school all play a significant role in shaping their health and learning for a lifetime. We also know that those same factors affect children before they even reach school age.

While we have for the most part focused on the K-12 school environment, we recognize the particular value of very early intervention and the way it can shape children’s health and learning for a lifetime. In this context, it is particularly important to ensure that childcare and early learning environments support the health of very young children and that we take every opportunity to learn from, share lessons and collaborate with leaders in this field.

The Working Group identified an opportunity to learn from and work with the pre-K and early learning sector in efforts to integrate health and education. The Working Group has asked, “What opportunities exist to support and integrate the pre-K and early learning sectors into this work? What lessons can be learned from the pre-K and early learning sectors to inform this work?”

This question is particularly relevant given the President’s Early Education Initiative, a key effort to help close the achievement gap by ensuring access to high-quality early learning opportunities for all children. Integrating health and wellness into the early learning experience will give children an even greater chance to reach school healthy and ready to learn.

Significant initiatives, including elements of the Let’s Move campaign, are underway to promote wellness and prevent childhood obesity in the early learning sectors, just as they are in the K-12 sector. What do these initiatives have in common? How are they different? Most important, what can these sectors, which are structured differently but are ultimately serving the same children, learn from each other?

By strengthening our ability to integrate wellness into both the early learning and K-12 sectors, our nation can move closer to closing the achievement gap and ensuring that all children are healthy and ready to learn.