Testimony: Funding for School-Based Health Programming Helps Children Succeed in School and in Life

Angie Vega, assistant director of Children's Health Fund’s Healthy and Ready to Learn (HRL) Initiative, testified before the New York City Council on May 6, 2024

Good morning, members of the committee, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. My name is Angie Vega and Assistant Director for the Healthy, Ready to Learn program for the Children’s Health Fund (CHF).

Today, we would also like to speak about the importance of continued and increased funding for programming that critically supports schools and parents in ensuring that students are well positioned to thrive in school like our New York City Council funded program, Healthy and Ready to Learn (HRL).

HRL was developed by Children’s Health Fund in 2014 as a part of our mission of supporting kids so they can thrive. It was developed recognizing the importance of education in helping kids to reach their potential, and that they need to be their healthiest selves to take advantage of educational opportunities. The program is designed to help schools identify and address health issues (many rooted in social, racial, and economic inequities) that impact student learning. When students have their health needs met (ie., can see the board, hear their teacher, focus on schoolwork, and so on) they are more likely to learn and succeed in school; ultimately, translating into a greater likelihood of a productive and happy life. HRL started with a strong focus on screening and responding to what we call health barriers to learning, such as addressing medical issues like asthma, dental concerns, vision problems, and mental well-being. While we continue to address these health barriers to learning, we are focused more and more on a growing and worrisome need: childhood trauma. HRL, therefore, has evolved to include supporting trauma sensitive school and home environments to better address the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and surrounding social issues like increases in overt racism and Violence.

Through our current model, we leverage findings from our flagship school, PS 49 in the Bronx and in Councilwoman Diana Ayala’s district (D-8), to inform materials and trainings that we conduct with educators and parents citywide and through our Resource and Training Center (RTC). Launched in 2017, RTC is an online platform that enables Children’s Health Fund to scale our impact to reach students throughout New York City. Our online repository is equity and diversity focused and houses a broad library that includes infographics, fact sheets, interactive learning images, slide decks, external resource links. Here is a snapshot of RTC’s and HRL’s impact:

  • Since 2017, nearly 44,000 users have accessed the website to request training curricula, view recorded workshops, and download free materials to support their health and education work.
  • In FY 2023, our most recent, complete NYCC grant year, the RTC had 5,893 users.
  • From January 2023 to the present, we trained in 27 schools in 18 districts—delivering 69
    parent workshops, 10 student workshops, and 4 professional development workshops—reaching 2,276 individuals.

Our impact is clear and the demand for our programming continues to increase. To meet the growing need in our most vulnerable communities, our FY25 goals include the following:

  • Expand into additional NYC school districts where teachers and parents need us most;
  • Build more partnerships with non-profit organizations focused on early childhood care and education;
  • Respond to the needs of communities most impacted by the ongoing migrant crisis;
  • Increase and tailor our training to continue to meet specific needs of teachers and schools; and
  • Communicate our efforts through social and traditional media, community outreach, and translating educational materials into multiple languages.

For these reasons, Children’s Health Fund urges the New York City Council and the Mayor to include funding to secure critical investments for early childhood learning, mental health programming, and our Healthy and Ready to Learn initiative. These actions will expand access for thousands more students throughout the city, giving them the best chance of succeeding in school and life.

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