Category Archives: Schools K-12
Most parents send their children off to school expecting they’ll have their minds enriched and expanded—they don’t expect that their kids’ health to be jeopardized.
But the reality is that the environmental conditions in aging or deteriorating school facilities can harm kids’ health and compromise their ability to learn. This is partly because children may be exposed to a variety of environmental hazards—such as lead, asbestos, molds, radon and volatile organic compounds—as well as toxic chemicals and pesticides at school. Half of U.S. schools have problems with indoor air quality, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and research suggests that the poorest children in the poorest neighborhoods have schools that are in the worst condition.
Sixty percent of kids suffer health and learning problems that stem from the conditions of their schools, according to the Coalition for Healthier Schools’ Towards Healthy Schools 2015 report. Children are especially vulnerable because they’re smaller; their organs are still developing; they spend more time on the ground; and they breathe more air and drink more water per pound of body weight than do adults, according to the EPA. They also may not be able to identify obvious hazards and move away from them.
Reducing environmental risks in schools offers significant payoffs in multiple domains. Improving indoor air quality can reduce asthma attacks by nearly 40 percent and upper respiratory infections by more than 50 percent, according to the 2006 report Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits. What’s more, a study weighing the costs and benefits of developing green schools for Washington State estimated a 15 percent reduction in absenteeism and a 5 percent increase in test scores, according to the Towards Healthy Schools 2015 report.
“A healthy school has a building that promotes health and learning—it will be clean, dry, and quiet. It will have good control of dust and particulate matter. It will provide good ventilation and good air quality,” said Claire Barnett, founder and executive director of the Healthy Schools Network Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to children’s environmental health and safety in schools. “This also assumes there’s no lead in the pipes, no PCBs in lighting or other old building materials, and no routine spraying of pesticides indoors or out. It shouldn’t be hard to have a building that meets these standards but it is. Parents shouldn’t take it for granted that a school facility is healthy.”
This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.
Mood changes often come with the territory of being a teenager, making it difficult sometimes to distinguish run-of-the-mill angst or feelings of sadness from symptoms that may signal a mental health condition. That’s why the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently launched a public service advertisement (PSA) called “Open Up, Be Heard”, with the goal of encouraging teens and young adults to turn to a trusted adult for help with their emotional problems.
Featuring former New York Knick Metta World Peace—who has gone public about his own challenges with managing his emotions—the spot aims to reduce the stigma regarding mental health issues. Promoted on social media as well as the health department’s NYC Teen page, the spot directs viewers to free online resources and personal stories from teens who’ve grappled with depression, anger, stress, suicidal thoughts and other challenges.
“It is critical that young people know it’s OK to reach out for help with emotional issues,” said New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, MD. “By speaking openly about his experience, Metta World Peace is an example for young people who are afraid of talking about their problems. We are so grateful to him for committing his time and insight to this important issue.”
The spot is much needed, given that 27 percent of public high school students in New York City reported they felt sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks sometime in the previous year, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, 15 percent of the city’s public high school students reported intentionally hurting themselves (by cutting or burning themselves, for instance) and 8 percent said they had attempted suicide.
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.
As colder weather begins to set in, a new story on the homeless from Atlantic Cities is particularly striking: According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeless students in the United States has hit a record high number.
For the 2011 school year—the latest year for which the department has data—1,168,354 homeless children were enrolled in U.S. schools from nursery through 12th grade. Nationally, that is a 10 percent jump over the previous school year, and a whopping 72 percent increase since the recession began in 2008. More striking numbers: more than 40 states showed a rise in homelessness among kids and ten states saw the number of kids without a space to call their own rise more than 20 percent since 2008.
The lack of a safe home and limited access to health care leaves America’s homeless at especially high risk for a large number of health problems. According to a fact sheet from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, “Without homes, people are exposed to the elements, disease, violence, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, stress and addictive substances. Consequently, their rates of serious illnesses and injuries are three to six times the rates of other people. These conditions are frequently co-occurring, with a complex mix of severe physical, psychiatric, substance use and social problems.”
>>Bonus link: Continue reading even after the numbers jump out at you to learn about a ten year old girl, reported by the San Jose Mercury News, who rides a bus with her father in Santa Clara County, Calif., each night since the $70 monthly pass makes it an affordable option. The fact that the young girl is having “one of her best years so far in school,” according to her father, is all the more remarkable considering they have to get off and reboard that bus about every two hours.
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.
DoSomething.org, a service and information website aimed at getting teens involved in their communities, has some startling statistics on bullying:
- About 160,000 teens skip school each year because of bullying
- More than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year
- 1 in 7 students in grades K-12 are either a bully or a victim of bullying
- 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school
Which is why a new book on bullying prevention, "A Public Health Approach to Bullying Prevention" from the American Public Health Association (APHA), is a welcome addition as the school year starts back up. The new book is intended as a resource for both parents and educators to help stem the problem of bullying at school.
“With its public health perspective and approach, this book can lead us steps closer to eliminating the physical and mental anguish that bullying has on our nation’s children and communities,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the APHA. “The book’s collection of various perspectives offers a comprehensive tool for parents and professionals to ensure healthy and safe schools.”
The book includes successful bullying prevention efforts implemented in southwestern Pennsylvania schools and essays by professionals working to develop approaches that might implement similar success in other U.S. school communities. Authors include psychologists, educators, social workers and public health program workers—and all have experience addressing bullying in the school environment.
“The goal ultimately, is to enable and empower students, teachers, school administration and parents to take on the work and responsibility of providing a safer and healthier environment for children,” explained Matthew Masiello, MD, MPH, Center for Health Promotion, Disease Prevention Director at the Windber Research Institute in Windber, Pennsylvania and co-editor of the book.
“A public health approach to bullying prevention…may be our best approach to providing legitimate and sustainable hope to our children at a time when it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so,” says Masiello.
The cost of book is $30 for APHA members and $50 for non members. It can be ordered through the APHA bookstore.
Recommended Listening: Baltimore Schools Get First Big Funding Boost for Infrastructure Improvement in 40 Years
Baltimore public schools are receiving a new $1 billion infrastructure investment—the first funding the school district has seen to actually build new schools in almost 40 years, according to a recent interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show with Bishop Douglas Miles, co-chair of BUILD and co-founding member of Baltimore Education Council. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley last week signed a law authorizing the funds for school construction and renovation. Eventually, 15 schools will be built and 35 will be repaired and renovated.
“The conditions in the schools have deteriorated,” said Miles. “Boilers breaking down annually in the middle of the winter, buildings lacking windows, water undrinkable because it’s lead-tainted—and our children deserve better than that.”
A growing wealth of data shows a positive relationship between the quality of school buildings and student outcomes. Also, about 85 percent of the 85,000 students in Baltimore schools receive free or reduced-cost lunch, the city has the lowest graduation rates in the state and nearly 140 of its 162 public schools are in very poor condition.
This infusion of funds will help promote academic success for the city’s students by decreasing education disparities. In the long-term it also has the potential to help improve the health of all Baltimore residents, as better education leads to better jobs, higher incomes, and longer, healthier lives. NewPublicHealth has previously illustrated the connection between education and health outcomes in an infographic.
>> Listen to the Tom Joyner Morning Show interview.
Every two weeks the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) releases an Innovations Exchange newsletter in order to share innovative health practices from around the country that can be adapted by other communities. The Innovations Exchange supports the Agency's mission to improve the quality of health care and reduce disparities.
The current issue focuses on school-based programs for youth at risk. According to AHRQ, many adolescents—particularly those in minority and low-income communities—lack access to health information, preventive care, and clinical services, leaving them at risk for untreated physical and mental health issues. School-based health care delivery, according to AHRQ, can improve access to care and address the needs of this vulnerable population.
The featured innovations for at risk youth include:
- A school-based program to reduce type 2 diabetes risk factors for children and young adults;
- An inner city school district's reproductive health services model;
- A school-based health center that improved access to mental health services, particularly for minorities.
The newsletter also features quality tools that schools can use to support HIV and STD prevention programs in schools and to facilitate school-based preventive, mental health, nutrition, and oral health services.
>>Read the latest issue of the AHRQ Innovations Exchange.
Shortly after the shooting of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Ct., a large group of Hollywood stars released a video asking viewers to “demand a plan” on action to be taken to prevent future mass shootings. Since then several videos have popped up on YouTube that show almost all of the actors in the video wielding weapons in films and television shows.
Another video also demands a plan on gun violence, with a compelling set of spokespeople. This one stars and was developed with minority teens in California and produced by the California Endowment, a private health foundation. At last check, the teens’ video had gotten close to 750,000 hits on YouTube.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Barbara Raymond, director of youth opportunity at the California Endowment about how the video came to be and what the next steps are for taking action on gun violence.
NewPublicHealth: How did this video come to be?
Barbara Raymond: The Endowment looks at health very broadly, including things that happen in our schools and happen in our neighborhoods. We started work a couple of years ago in 14 communities across California, and through the process we’ve worked with over 20,000 residents and they came back so strongly saying safety and my own health prevention are our number one issues. And they drilled down further to issues including school safety and school climate and the epidemic of suspensions and extreme school discipline policies.
We have been able to engage a whole set of young people and they have really identified these issues as well. It’s especially the young people saying that working on these issues is urgent, including violence in the community and on the streets of our neighborhoods, fixing issues in our schools and what the kids call the school-to-prison pipeline. These issues have just come up so strongly so when the Newtown tragedy happened, young people wanted to say something and react to that.
As staff, we talked about how the tragedy would open up a whole public conversation around mental health and school safety practices and staff members suggested we reach out to the kids with the video idea.
NPH: How were the kids involved in the development of the video?
The use of school-based health services has gained momentum and recognition across the United States as a unique tool in the fight to prevent poor outcomes in both health and education, especially among vulnerable populations. When last surveyed in 2008, the number of school-based or school-linked health clinics in the U.S. had surpassed 1,900. Recently, the federal government has acknowledged their potential, too, creating a distinct grant program for school-based health centers as part of ACA and recognizing them as providers in the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. [Read more on school-based health center policy developments.]
The typical school-based health center (SBHC) provides free or low-cost basic physical and mental health services, and sometimes oral and vision care. They’ve been shown to reduce asthma-related ER visits and hospitalization costs; reach greater numbers of racial minorities, especially young men; and increase the likelihood by 10 to 20 times that a student uses mental health services. But, the conversation at the American Public Health Association annual meetings was focused on the unique effects these centers are having on students and communities beyond the clinic walls.
Youth Successfully Influencing Their Peers
One session on youth as public health champions covered how receiving services directly on campus involves youth in their own health and the health of their peers in a powerful way. Kathleen Gutierrez from the California School Health Centers Association highlighted innovative ways in which California’s SBHCs are utilizing youth as messengers.