Healthy Supports for Student Success
Studies show that the physical and mental health of students is inextricably linked to their academic success. Fourteen percent of students in school have asthma that impacts their daily living. One third of teen girls will become pregnant before age nineteen, and many of them will not complete high school successfully. Eleven percent of families are food insecure—their children do not get enough to eat and they may come to school hungry.
That is precisely why schools can and should create the conditions for optimal learning, including the basics of health services, from healthy meals to physical activity to health education that teaches life-long skills.
“Our members work with students every day whose health and school conditions impede their ability to learn. That’s why NEA members are taking the lead to advocate for school and learning conditions that result in a higher level of student engagement and fewer absences” said National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel at Health in Mind, hosted by the Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust For America’s Health on May 9th (coincidentally School Nurse Day).
Joining Van Roekel at the event were American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
At the event, the Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America’s Health released actionable policy recommendations focused on supporting schools in addressing health and wellness in order to improve student learning and achievement.
The recommendations note that incorporating health and wellness into school culture and environment, student services, and curricula can:
- Support student health
- Help close the achievement gap
- Ensure this generation does not become the first in American history to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents.
Two years ago, the Affordable Care Act created the National Prevention and Health Promotion Council (NPC), which brought together seventeen federal cabinet agencies and offices from across the government to address prevention. The NPC released the National Prevention Strategy, which “recognizes that good health comes not just from receiving quality medical care, but also from clean air and water, safe outdoor spaces for physical activity, safe worksites, healthy foods, violence-free environments and healthy homes.”
The strategy commits all federal agencies, not just Health and Human Services, to consider the health impacts and outcomes in their work. This includes addressing the role that health plays in learning and that learning plays in health.
Over the past two years, the federal government has demonstrated a strong commitment to disease prevention and health promotion with initiatives, including the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign. At the same time, growing evidence shows the powerful connection between health and academic achievement, with recent research linking health disparities to the minority achievement gap. While all children benefit from creating healthy schools, the benefits will be greater for children of color and poor children who experience health related problems at higher rates than other children.
Given this, the organizations supporting Health in Mind believe that the time is right for the Department of Education to further support the critical connection between health and learning, and build this priority into the department’s infrastructure and leadership.
Their recommendations for the U.S. Department of Education are within its current regulatory and budget framework and, if adopted, can be a catalyst for broader change in the education sector and can set the stage for more comprehensive education reform. The recommendations are as follows:
- Increase the Department of Education’s capacity to support student health and wellness.
- Support the development of pre-service and professional development programs for teachers and principals that prepare them to support student health.
- Support the development of resources for schools to effectively engage parents around school health and wellness issues.
- Support the development of educational data systems and school accountability programs that incorporate student health.
- Incorporate health and wellness into the U.S. Department of Education’s recognition programs.
Van Roekel also pointed out that repairing and modernizing the thousands of deteriorating public schools is a top priority for student health – along with a strong and sustained national campaign against student bullying.
Also included were recommendations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that are aimed at reducing barriers that schools face in receiving reimbursements for health services that they deliver to Medicaid-eligible students.
As Secretary Sebelius noted on May 9, “(W)e know that our kids spend about half their time in school. If our schools are unhealthy places, we’re going to have unhealthy children no matter what they do with the rest of their time.
On the other hand, if we can make our schools healthy places – with nutritious food, opportunities to exercise, and access to care – then we’ll have taken a huge step towards making sure our children are ready to succeed and able to reach their full potential.”
LFA member organizations supporting the Health in Mind Vision Statement are:
- American Association of School Administrators
- American Federation of Teachers
- National Association of State Boards of Education
- National Association of Secondary School Principals
- National Education Association
- National PTA
Editor’s Note: This post is from our partners at the NEA Health Information Network (NEA HIN). Each month, we feature a new column on a topic related to school health. Through this effort, we hope to inform the public of important health issues that impact schools and offer educators and parents resources to address them.
Today's post was authored by Nora Howley and Zachary Kolsky.
Image by Hrushi3030 and available in the public domain on Wikimedia Commons
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- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
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