Integrating Health and Education in the Non-Governmental Sector

  • February 20, 2014
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How sectors beyond the government can lead the way for 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 Health and Education.

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

When HSC began our Health in Mind project with Trust for America’s Health in 2012, we focused on the role of the federal government, outlining specific and practical changes that the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services could make to begin transforming the way our nation supports kids’ health in schools.

The federal government’s policies and resources play a powerful role in determining schools’ ability to provide the conditions that support students’ health. But to truly transform our paradigm around health in schools, we need to also look beyond the role of the federal government to consider the crucial roles that leaders in other sectors can play.

For this reason, the second phase of Health in Mind has focused on multi-sector change. The Working Group convened by former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin brings together leaders in the public sector (at both local and national levels) with advocates, researchers and leaders in the philanthropic community.

As it examined the big picture of how we can better support kids’ learning by supporting their health, the Working Group has asked: How can the non-governmental sector (including private philanthropy and business) promote greater integration of health and education?

Since our organization was founded more than ten years ago, HSC has been unique in our ability to bring together diverse coalitions of individuals and groups who may not have worked together before. (In some cases, they may not work together again outside the coalition — either because they sit on the opposite sides of big issues or because their work simply does not often overlap.) We see groups who often work in opposition sitting down together at the table to talk about advancing common-sense efforts for kids’ health and education that can only be described as win-win.

In the field of school wellness, many of the issues we speak up for bring benefits that reach across multiple sectors. While health advocates may support a physical activity initiative for its’ impact on kids’ wellness, for example, educators may support it because it boosts brain function. Philanthropists with an eye on their city’s future may support it as an investment in a healthy and well-educated generation of future community members.

Just as every sector would experience benefits from improving our nation’s ability to integrate health and education, we believe every sector can play a role in bringing about this change.

Through our work on Health in Mind, we learned about a great example of this concept in action in Colorado, where a coordinated multi-sector coalition plays a significant role in bolstering the state’s effort to make health and wellness part of the school experience.

Dr. Helayne Jones, CEO of the Colorado Legacy Foundation, said that the partnership “allows us to provide resources and build capacity to implement health and wellness strategies that help students lead healthy, active lives.” She explained: “It’s not just about having another funding opportunity or another strategic plan. It’s about having boots on the ground and expertise from people who can implement the programs.” You can read more about this fascinating set of partnerships in this case study on HSC’s blog.

Here at HSC, some of our greatest experiences with multi-sector coalitions have been around our work to promote green cleaning in schools. When we successfully advocated for the 2007 law that made Illinois the second state in the nation to require green cleaning in schools, for example, we did so with the support of a diverse coalition that included environmentalists, cleaning product manufacturers, labor unions, school nurses and many others.

Most recently, HSC has been working with the worldwide cleaning industry association ISSA and environmental assessment leader Ecoform to develop Transpare, a new online tool that will help school leaders make informed decisions about the cleaning products they purchase.

Transpare allows purchasers to access more details about the environmental health and safety attributes of cleaning products. But how can busy school administrators sort through this new level of information to choose the products that best suit their needs? HSC is working as part of this unique coalition to create a healthy schools filter for Transpare that will help purchasers find products that align with children’s specific health needs in an indoor environment. It will also enable manufacturers to distinguish products that go above and beyond existing standards.

We are inspired by the potential for unique and innovative contributions that can come from multi-sector partnerships and look forward to exploring what this means for school health.