Category Archives: School/district policy
County Health Rankings & Roadmaps — Transforming Public Schools in Baltimore: Q&A with Robert English
Years of research shows that school facilities in poor condition—including faulty heating and cooling systems, poor indoor air quality, and deficient science labs—significantly reduce academic achievement and graduation rates. On the other hand, new and renovated school buildings that are equipped with modern science labs; art and music resources; and other amenities lead to improved educational outcomes. Research has also shown that when students attend high-quality schools they are more likely to be engaged in school and have higher attendance, test scores and graduation rates.
The public schools in Baltimore, Md., have the lowest graduation rates and oldest facilities in the state. A recent report described 85 percent of Baltimore’s 162 public school buildings as being in either poor or very poor condition.
While graduation rates in Baltimore public schools have increased significantly in recent years, thanks to better funding and other academic-focused efforts, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) aims to further improve the graduation rate, educational outcomes, overall health and economic prosperity of Baltimore residents. The goal is to integrate the rebuilding and renovation of every city school into the district’s education reform efforts. BUILD and its partners, ACLU of Maryland and Child First, want to change state and city policies to support school construction and renovation.
BUILD is the recipient of a County Health Rankings & Roadmaps community health grant to educate and engage parents, school leaders, and leaders from other sectors such as business, the community and faith leaders about the need for updated schools to get the best education outcomes for Baltimore’s students. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Robert English, BUILD’s lead organizer, about the group’s recent successful efforts.
>>How healthy is your county? Join the live webcast event on March 26 to celebrate the launch of the 2014 County Health Rankings and to spotlight communities taking action to build a culture of health across America.
NPH: What’s the link between improving the school infrastructure and improving the graduation rates?
English: A leading indicator of students graduating from high school is that they feel safe and challenged in their schools. We’ve talked to thousands of students and families in Baltimore City and by the time students here in Baltimore get into the 9th grade and 10th grade, they have often lost interest in high school and many of them have said that it’s because of the facilities. We didn’t have science labs in many cases or other core components of a quality education to send kids to college.
This campaign is about building the 21st century learning environments that can prepare young people not only to graduate, but to go to college. For BUILD this is not a bricks-and-mortar campaign—this is about providing the educational space where every child has an opportunity to learn, and then secondly this is about bringing people together around creating high expectations for students. We’ve continued to organize in the schools that are in year one through year three of school construction, and the constituency we are building will be here to hold our schools accountable to providing real results.
For some kids, getting ready to head back to school takes more than a new backpack and a sharpened pencil. In an effort to reduce the deaths and harassment that some Chicago kids faced on their way to and from school, the city has enhanced a program called “Safe Passage,” which trains city workers to help children get to school safely. Last year there were 600 workers in the program, and this year that number has been doubled.
“The whole city is with you, shoulder to shoulder, doing our part to make sure every child in every neighborhood is safe on the way to and from school and has academic success once they get there,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a meeting with Safe Passage workers late last month.
The program currently serves 91 schools. Over the last two years crime on Safe Passage routes was down 20 percent and incidents among students were down 27 percent the schools.
Training for Safe Passage workers includes work on how to build relationships, anticipate issues before they occur and strategies for de-escalating situations. Training continues throughout the school year.
Stationing workers is actually part of a much larger strategy in Chicago for improving school safety, which has included trimming trees and removing weeds to make areas easier to see and safer; installing safe passage signs; removing graffiti; and repairing broken sidewalks and street lights. The city has also conducted community education training about the Safe Passage program. Parents along the Safe Passage routes got school specific information before the term began. See safe passage routes here.
A group of professionally-attired policy-makers, influencers and public health professionals in Washington started their day this morning the way students at Namaste Charter School in Chicago do every day—doing upper and lower body exercises and stretches to make physical activity the first learning component of their school day. The Washingtonians—and some key education and health officials from around the country—were at the launch of “Health in Mind,” a project of the Healthy Schools Campaign and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) that has released actionable recommendations focused on improving student learning and achievement through healthier schools. The recommendations were presented at today’s event to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“Unless we address health and wellness in schools, our nation’s efforts to close the achievement gap will be compromised,” said Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of the Healthy Schools Campaign, a national group that has focused on improving food and fitness in Chicago public schools.
Health in Mind aligns with the National Prevention Strategy introduced two years ago by the National Prevention and Health Promotion Council, which brings together 17 federal cabinet offices and agencies. The Strategy commits the entire federal government, not just the health agencies, to integrate health into their work and make a healthier nation a priority across sectors.
“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 quality of life for today’s kids as they grow up—they will do better in school and be healthier.”
Spring has sprung in the nation’s capital, and while the Cherry Blossoms are the most heralded bloom, the city is also awash in yellow forsythia, white apple blossoms, purple lavender and shovels and hoes at small and large plots of land across the area. One of those is a brand new garden at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus, a D.C. middle and high school.
The new garden is one of hundreds of People’s Gardens established by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack three years ago. The Columbia Heights garden has funding support from the D.C. Daughters of the American Revolution and planting expertise from volunteers at USDA. Students have been studying and preparing to plant their garden for a year, and it will include gathering spaces, a wildlife habitat garden and a fruit and vegetable production area. The produce will be used at school and donated locally.
Read a USDA blog post about the new garden.
Weigh In: How is your community supporting first-time gardeners?