To Boost Learning, Start with Emotional Health

Today in Education Week, Vulnerable Populations Team Director Jane Lowe discusses the impact of innovative partnerships that address the physical and emotional health of schoolchildren in the article, “Want to Boost Learning? Start with Emotional Health.” With poverty rates in our country on the rise, more children are facing instability at home as programs are being slashed at school.

Learning requires more than good teachers and books. If a child is sick, hungry or struggling with family instability at home, the ability to retain lessons takes a backseat. And as Lowe acknowledges, “Schools cannot — and should not — be expected to manage these issues themselves. On the other hand, they cannot afford to ignore them if they expect students to achieve.” Solutions—however innovative or unique—are out there, Lowe insists, including RWJF grantees Playworks and The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (CHHCS).

Playworks supports a full-time, trained staff person to improve recess in low-income schools, often an Americorps member. Playworks staff are dedicated coaches trained to transform the playground–which too often is a place of chaos and conflict at schools – to engage all kids in fun, constructive games and give them the tools to resolve disputes quickly and get back in the game. This, on top of engaging them in healthy physical activity that lets them burn off energy and return to the classroom more focused on learning, adds up to improved school climates and better learners. Increasingly, what we’re seeing, as the program spreads to schools in cities across the country is that Playworks helps strengthen the social and emotional health of kids, giving them critical skills and values to help them grow into healthy adults – conflict resolution, cooperation, leadership, self-respect and respect for others and a greater sense of school connectedness.

While Playworks helps to boost social and emotional well-being through play, CHHCS focuses on the physical and mental health of schoolchildren through school-based health centers. These centers are community-based health care organizations that sponsor licensed health care professionals that actively work with all levels of school employees to ensure that kids’ health is an integral part of the school. In addition to keeping children physically and emotionally healthy, which provides a better environment for learning, the centers expose children to caring adults who can help them solve difficult problems in healthy ways. As Lowe notes in the article, “Researchers saw that students who received care through school-based health centers not only had better attendance and fewer disciplinary issues, but they actually saw increases in GPA — particularly for students who accessed mental health services.”

The innovative partnerships that Playworks and CHHCS have established with schools are a key driver of their success in improving students’ health and well-being. Lowe calls for leadership from more schools to prioritize such partnerships so that vulnerable children can get the care they need to succeed in school and in life, particularly amidst these challenging economic circumstances.