Preparing Educators to Think about Health | Teachers College Columbia University

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Preparing Educators to Think about Health

Public health experts have been flagging the problem of health as a barrier to learning for decades, says Howell Wechsler, and elected officials and policymakers have nodded their heads and then mostly gone on about
their business.

But Wechsler (Ed.D. ’95), who stepped down in May as Director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sees some new reason for hope. In his Tisch Lecture at TC in February, titled “Taking Action Now to Address the Missing Link in School Reform,” Wechsler held up the October 2011 issue of the Journal of School Health, which was devoted to a group of articles collectively titled “Healthier Students Are Better Learners.” All of the articles were written by Charles E. Basch, TC’s Richard March Hoe Professor of Health Education.

“This report has led to unprecedented amounts of attention placed on the need for strong school health programs,” Wechsler told listeners. 

Basch’s report documents how seven health issues – vision, asthma, teen pregnancy, aggression and violence, physical activity, breakfast, and inattention and hyperactivity – disproportionately affect low-income, minority youth, and details the specific ways these problems contribute to the nation’s school achievement gap. He also outlines a strategy for combating these issues with school health programs coordinated by an extensive cast of national, regional and local players. 

Wechsler said schools of education must also make student health a fundamental part of their missions. He called on TC to work with health experts to codify what teachers and administrators need to know – in particular, how and why specific health problems interfere with learning – and to lead the way to strengthen the preparation of teachers and administrators to address health-related barriers to learning.

Wechsler, who is now Chief Executive Officer of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, closed by quoting the Jewish philosopher Hillel – “If not now, when?” – adding, “If not the nation’s oldest, largest and greatest college of education, then who?”

Published Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013