The connection between health and learning is clear; however, health and education policymakers are missing out on opportunities to improve academic success by promoting health and wellness in schools. Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America's Health have created an initiative, Health in Mind: Improving Education Through Wellness, to integrate the two. On May 9, the leaders of Health in Mind presented recommendations to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius that will help achieve the vision.
"This generation could be the first to have shorter, less healthy lives than their parents. That is unacceptable," said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health. "The coming together of health and education is a model for the kind of collaboration needed to develop a comprehensive strategy for a healthy future."
Health in Mind offered a number of recommendations, including:
- Preparing principals and teachers to promote student health and wellness through professional development programs and in-service training that equips them to identify and address student health issues while creating classroom and school environments that support all students' wellness.
- Providing schools with strategies to partner with parents as agents of change for integrating health and wellness into education.
- Incorporating health and wellness into school metrics and accountability systems to allow schools to make data-driven decisions about how health and wellness affect student learning.
- Incorporating health and wellness into recognition programs to motivate schools to adopt policies and practices that promote student health and wellness.
- Increasing the Department of Education's capacity to provide leadership and guidance on integrating health and wellness into schools as a way to improve academic performance.
- Reducing barriers that schools face when seeking reimbursement for health services delivered to Medicaid-eligible students, and providing a level of funding that can increase access to health and prevention services, particularly through school nursing.
Health in Mind's recommendations can assist the national effort to reduce the achievement gap and to transform the healthcare system, said Rochelle Davis, president of Healthy Schools Campaign. "We believe these recommendations will be a catalyst for broad, far-reaching change."
"It's not only intuitive, but obvious, that improving student health improves learning," said AFT president Randi Weingarten, who was in attendance. "Student health is critical to student learning, but there is neither the integration nor investment to support it. These recommendations give us a blueprint."
Schools should be healthy places so we can ensure that students are ready to succeed, said Sebelius. "Nutrition and exercise are just the start. Students need access to affordable care as well." Sebelius also noted the importance of using innovative strategies and the need to build on existing programs to integrate health and learning.
Duncan agreed. "We can't use hard economic times as an excuse for not addressing the needs of students. We have to think creatively." [Adrienne Coles, Health in Mind/photos by Michael Campbell]
May 10, 2012