Across the U.S., we are witnessing a health crisis in the classroom . Health-related barriers to learning are keeping kids from doing well in school – and children living in poverty are getting hit the hardest. Building on decades of experience caring for vulnerable kids, Children's Health Fund launched the Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative in September 2014 to meet this crisis head on. Working together with educators, health care providers and parents, Children's Health Fund is leading a growing movement to ensure that all kids are healthy and ready to learn.
For millions of American children, education is the path out of poverty. But untreated health problems can make it impossible for children to succeed in school. A child who's been awake all night with an asthma attack can't focus on algebra. A child who can't see the blackboard will struggle with spelling.
The Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative is designed to tackle eight key health-related barriers to learning (HBLs): uncontrolled asthma, poor vision, hearing impairment, hunger, anemia, elevated lead levels, behavioral health problems, and dental pain.
In Fall 2014, Children's Health Fund introduced Healthy and Ready to Learn—the first initiative to systematically address HBLs and provide a scalable model for breaking down the traditional silos between health care and education. The groundbreaking project, which launched at three pilot schools in New York City, places a health coordinator and a behavioral health professional on site at each school to work with teachers, administrators and students to identify and address health-related barriers to learning. These specialists also reach out to engage and educate students’ families.
During the 2014-15 school year, Healthy and Ready to Learn is being piloted in three New York City schools:
PS 49—The Willis Avenue School
The Willis Avenue School is a public elementary school serving children in grades pre-k through 5th in the poorest congressional district in the United States. It has an enrollment of 675 students. 97% receive free or reduced-price lunch. 19.5% are English Language Learners. 31% were chronically absent (missing 20 or more days of school) in the 2012-13 school year. The school is located at 383 East 139th Street in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. The Corporate Founding Partner for this program is Jaguar Land Rover.*
PS 36—The Margaret Douglas School
The Margaret Douglas School is a public elementary (pre-k through 5th) that seeks to promote excellence in literacy, math, social studies, science and technology through the arts. The school enrolls 530 students. 85.4% receive free or reduced-price lunch. 9.8% are English Language Learners. 35% were chronically absent (missing 20 or more days of school) in the 2012-13 school year. The school is located at 123 Morningside Drive in the West Harlem section of Manhattan.*
PS 140—The Eagle School
PS 140 offers pre-K through 5th grade. The enrollment is 650. 91.5% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Some 8.3% are English Language Learners. In the 2012-2013 school year, 41% of students were chronically absent, missing 20 or more days of school. The school is located at 916 Eagle Avenue in the South Bronx.*
The Children’s Health Fund National Network spans 17 states and the District of Columbia with 25 fixed site and mobile clinical programs. The mobile clinics visit 350 sites, including 159 schools, pioneering innovative ways to bring health care to students in the learning environment.
Since designing the first Children's Health Fund mobile medical clinic, Karen Redlener has worked alongside Children's Health Fund co-founder and president Dr. Irwin Redlener to preside over the growth and development of Children's Health Fund. As Executive Director, she oversees has directed the Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative from concept to reality.
Dr. Delaney Gracy, Chief Medical Officer, Children's Health Fund
Dr. Gracy saw health-related barriers to learning with her own eyes while working as a doctor on one of the Children's Health Fund mobile medical clinics for five years. As Chief Medical Officer, she has contributed heavily to the development of screening and treatment standards for the Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative.
Dr. Charles Basch is out to break down the walls between education and health care. As Professor of Health and Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, he has spent years exploring the connection between student health and educational achievement. Chuck, as his colleagues know him, helped design the Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative. Read More.
Phoebe Browne brings an extensive background in community health, school health and public education to the program. Among other experiences, she has worked with New York Presbyterian's school-based health network and the Bureau of Maternal, Infant, and Reproductive Health in the NYC Department of Health.
“I am from the Bronx, born and raised in the Bronx. I am an advocate for my community,” says Barbara Alicea, who serves on her local Community Board and other organizations. She has previously worked in New York City’s Administration for Child Services and the early childhood education group Jumpstart, and she’s excited about tackling the disparities she sees children face.
Wenimo Okoya taught in the Newark schools for three years, then got a degree in public health. “I saw there were problems beyond academics in the community,” Okoya says—adding that she believes schools are the place to address many of those problems. She says she’s looking forward to “being part of something really novel and really critical.”
Nydia Santiago-Galvin brings her experience as an RN, nurse manager and teacher to the table. She remembers students with untreated vision problems "being the class clown, or acting like they're tired." She's drawn to Healthy and Ready to Learn by the hope that "if we can identify those health-related barriers to learning and find ways to combat them, our children have a better future."
Children's Health Fund Co-Founder and President Irwin Redlener, MD, issues a rallying cry to change the way we approach health in schools.
"Teachers know that if students can't see the whiteboard, they will have trouble learning," writes the Journal's Lisa Fleisher, covering the release of our report "Crisis in the Classroom: How Untreated Medical Problems
Are Seen to Interfere With School Performance."
Reporter Kathryn Doyle interviews Dr. Gracy on why it's so important for children with asthma to have a medical form on file at school.
*All statistics from 2012-2013 academic year.