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Toward a Healthier Student Body

No one argues that many of the nation’s public schools are in alarming shape. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that to get the results being asked of them, schools need healthier families and children.

No one argues that many of the nation's public schools are in alarming shape. What's becoming increasingly clear is that to get the results being asked of them, schools need healthier families and children.

Enter TC's Department of Health and Behavior Studies.

"Our mantra is the link between health and learning," says department chair Charles Basch, Richard March Hoe Professor of Health Education. 

The department's programs are clustered into three basic areas. The first is applied educational psychology, which includes school psychology and reading specialist programs. The second encompasses health studies: health education, nutrition education and nursing programs. The third centers on special education for behavioral disorders, mental retardation, deafness and hearing impairment, blindness and low vision, and other disabilities.

"We're the only department in the country with this constellation of programs," Basch says. "It's all aimed at supporting what we call comprehensive and coordinated school health. That covers not just health instruction, but also physical well-being, school food services, policies related to health promotion, psychological counseling services, literacy and so forth. We are especially committed to low-income populations and those with special needs because these groups are at heightened risk for health and literacy problems."

It makes for a diverse range of faculty interests, which includes research and practice directed to both youth and adult populations.  Examples of this work include, but are not limited to, improving the learning potential and quality of life for individuals with various mental and physical disabilities; counseling in schools, prisons, clinics and community settings with children and adults; designing curricula to improve nutrition education and science in schools; preventing violence in schools and in communities; fostering mental health among children and families; improving understanding about post-traumatic stress;  and planning, implementing and evaluating educational programs to reduce disparities in health related to a wide variety of health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental illness, AIDS and accidental and intentional injuries.

"We believe that good academic programs are built on quality research," Basch says.  The department has a considerable amount of funding from governmental agencies such as the National Institutes of Health to support their prevention research and programs.  "We're committed to helping under-served populations, which is very much in line with TC's focus on educational equity. And our overall approach is humanistic, emphasizing voluntariness, self-determination, caring, learner participation and experiential learning."

All of which makes it abundantly clear that the department is central to the mission of Teachers College. Beyond that, Basch says, the fact is that "health in schools is generally addressed in a haphazard and uncoordinated way. It's too often considered tangential, an extra - especially by zealots who think schools shouldn't educate students about drugs and sex.  School-based health promotion programs cannot address all of the mental and emotional problems faced by children and adolescents, but they can make a considerable difference in their emotional and social lives and contribute to their healthful growth and development as learners, and more importantly, as members of society."

Published Friday, Oct. 29, 2004