HSC and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) today released policy recommendations focused on supporting schools in addressing health and wellness in order to improve student learning and achievement. The recommendations were presented to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
“Healthy students are better prepared to learn and succeed in school,” said Rochelle Davis, HSC President and CEO. “An increasing body of research backs up this common-sense notion. This is especially critical in light of the vast health disparities that exist in our nation. Unless we address health and wellness in schools, our nation’s efforts to close the achievement gap will be compromised.”
The recommendations, Health in Mind, note that incorporating health and wellness into school culture and environment, student services and curricula can support student health, help close the achievement gap and 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 17 federal cabinet agencies and offices from across the government to address prevention. The NPC released the National Prevention Strategy, which commits the entire federal government, not just the health agencies, to integrating health into their work.
“The Strategy and these recommendations represent a major culture shift in how the nation views health – health will no longer be separated from education, transportation, housing and other clearly connected policies,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH and Chair of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. “Health in Mind’s focus on students and schools promises to have a long-term payoff by improving education and the quality of life for today’s kids as they grow up – they will do better in school and be healthier.”
Health in Mind focuses on several federal initiatives and policies that can broadly benefit the health, well-being and education of the nation’s students. Some of the recommendations include:
- Prepare 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.
- Provide schools with strategies to partner with parents as agents of change for integrating health and wellness into education.
- Incorporate health and wellness into school metrics and accountability systems to allow schools to make data-driven decisions about how health and wellness impact student learning.
- Incorporate health and wellness into recognition programs to motivate schools to adopt policies and practices that promote student health and wellness.
- Increase 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.
- Reduce barriers that schools face when seeking reimbursement for health services delivered to Medicaid-eligible students, providing a level of funding that can increase access to health and prevention services, particularly through school nursing.
- Re-think the role schools can play in our nation’s prevention efforts and the ways that the Department of Health and Human Services can support schools in creating the conditions for health.
“Together, we can create the conditions for health and well-being in our nation’s schools,” said Gail Christopher, vice president – program strategy for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a partner and funder of this work. “Implementing these recommendations can build on existing momentum and accomplish meaningful change that shapes children’s health and learning for a lifetime.”
At the presentation of recommendations, union leaders representing the nation’s teachers voiced support for prioritizing health in schools.
“The link between student health and student achievement is not theoretical—it is a fact.” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Yes, there are many educational and academic issues that we need to address. But making schools better also means that we must create environments that provide steady support for health and good nutrition.”
“Our members work with students every day whose health and school conditions impede their ability to learn," said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. "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."
More than 70 organizations signed on to the Health in Mind vision statement also presented at the briefing.
We invite you to learn more! Check out the executive summary and full recommendations online.