NEWTON, MA | July 1, 1998
U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher recently praised a new EDC book for providing American schools with a blueprint to put children’s health and well-being at the center of all education decisions. Schools that coordinate their resources to protect the health of children will “reap great financial, academic, and health rewards,” he said.
Health Is Academic: A Guide to Coordinated School Health Programs makes the case that such student problems as violence, depression, poor nutrition and fitness, absenteeism, chronic infections, and adolescent pregnancy affect not only individuals, but entire classrooms and schools. When schools do not deal with children’s health by design, they deal with it by default, according to the authors.
A collaborative effort
The book, published this spring by Teachers College Press, is a joint enterprise between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and EDC. More than 70 national organizations contributed to the development of the book, including the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Boards Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Joining Dr. Satcher at the DC event were representatives of 40 of those organizations; Gerold Tirrozi, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education; and Lloyd Kolbe, Director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The link between academics and health
“There is no question in my mind that if we are going to be successful with the so-called academics of schooling, we have to be involved in programs like nutrition, health, and a variety of social services,” commented Tirozzi. “I agree that first and foremost, the mission of schooling is ‘reading, writing, and arithmetic.’ But if children are hungry, it is very difficult to learn. If children are not well, it is very difficult to learn. We need to step back and understand that unfortunately and regrettably we’re still not seeing the school as a vehicle by which we can coordinate myriad community resources.”
“The goal is not to place additional burdens on schools, but to help schools and their surrounding communities develop a coordinated response to problems they are already struggling to solve,” commented Eva Marx, one of the editors. Clearly, schools did not create these problems, and ultimately they alone will not be able to solve them, she added.
Schools across the country are investing in student health in a variety of ways, such as:
- An elementary school in Louisiana houses a family resource center where a pediatrician holds office hours, parents attend literacy classes, and a counselor offers group sessions for student-aged mothers.
- In Rhode Island, a team of teachers, administrators, parents, and counselors meets regularly in an elementary school to devise solutions to problems that are interfering with students school success.
- In districts around the country, classroom instruction on health is reinforced by activities in gym class, the cafeteria, or by school policies on smoking and violence.
”Health Is Academic will be particularly useful to school leaders and school staff throughout the nation because it’s not academic,” said Dr. Kolbe. “It is written to describe feasible, practical actions that school staff across the nation could take to try to improve the well-being of young people. And we hope, then consequently, to also improve their academic achievement.”