Investing in Health to Enhance Readiness
By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA)
In July, the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) held its first national conference in nearly a decade to remind educators and community leaders of the dire circumstances faced by some of our nation's students. The conference challenged all leaders to "pursue justice for children with urgency and persistence."
Although the challenges public education faces — fiscally, economically, politically, and socially — are complex, there are discrete solutions that we can leverage right now to transform learning.
- Too many of our children are uninsured and, thus, lack access to healthcare.
- Too many of our children lack access to nutritious foods.
- Too many of our children are not college-ready.
Research has demonstrated clearly that health and learning are linked (see Charles Basch's Healthier Students are Better Learners for incredible detail on the subject). Furthermore, we know that these issues are more acute in our most vulnerable populations: Students living in low-income, urban, rural, or minority communities or who are English language learners. And if we, as educators, are serious about embracing the President's challenge of enhancing the pipeline of college and career ready students, school system leaders must recognize the link between healthy students and successful learning and invest in programs and policies that ensure students are in school and ready to learn.
There are 8 million children who are uninsured, 5 million of whom are eligible for Medicaid or the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Schools can lead outreach and enrollment activities by simply adding a health insurance question to enrollment cards or other routine information forms. Just asking the question is an effective way to step up to the challenge and enable students to access needed healthcare so that small problems do not turn into bigger problems that lead to extended absences.
Schools can also take an active leadership role in providing a nutritious breakfast for students using innovative delivery strategies like breakfast in the classroom, grab 'n' go and second chance options. Not only does eating a healthy breakfast at the start of the day help students stay focused, research shows that increasing school breakfast participation increases attendance, attention, and ultimately, learning.
In times of diminished resources, schools must narrow their focus — that focus should be to create a system that meets the needs of, and supports and assists, all children toward college and career readiness. College readiness can only be achieved when communities work together to ensure that children are present in school, ready to learn, with an effective teacher and a curriculum of rigor that prepares them for what lies ahead. Schools have to engage in large-scale culture change from one that selects and screens the best students for college to one that supports and assists all students toward post-secondary success.
Principals, teachers, and guidance counselors send powerful signals to students about expectations — those expectations should be beyond graduation and should include some sort of post-secondary program for all students. We are called to cater to the needs of the total child so that children who come to school with less don't get less from school. We are called to nurture students inside and outside the classroom so that all students will be ready for college, work, and life.
Learn more about AASA's partnership with CDF to enroll eligible children in Medicaid and CHIP.
Learn about AASA's partnerships to enhance and expand school breakfast programs.
Learn more about AASA's college and career readiness initiative, Ready by 21.
Learn more on the link between health and learning by reading
Charles E. Basch's "Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap." Equity Matters Research Review No. 6. Campaign for Educational Equity, March 2010.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.