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Winning Allies in High Places for a Crusade for Student Health

Chuck Basch has been saying for years that the nation won’t close its education achievement gap unless it addresses health problems that disproportionately affect poor and minority youth. He’s found plenty of listeners – states, municipalities and school districts around the country – who have since implemented his ideas for using schools themselves as the key channel for improving student health.

Now Basch, TC’s Richard March Hoe Professor of Health Education, has found still greater visibility for his crusade.

In early June, in a talk at the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Basch once again presented unequivocal evidence, culled from hundreds of national and local studies, that health conditions such as asthma, teen pregnancy, violence and aggression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder are directly hindering the academic achievement of disadvantaged students. The forums of IOM, the venerable health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, are bellwethers for shifts in the nation’s priorities in health and medicine. At this one, titled “Opportunities for Progress at the Interface of Health and Education” and attended by leaders ranging from the economist Peter Orszag, former Director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, and the early childhood development authority Laurie Miller Brotman of NYU Langone Medical Center, a lot of the right people were in the room to further Basch’s vision of a coordinated national effort to overcome health barriers to academic achievement.

“Schools have never had health as part of their fundamental mission, yet they are one of the most powerful social institutions in our society to shape the lives of our nation,” Basch said in his presentation.

Basch will now have an unprecedented opportunity to prove that idea through his work with the Children’s Health Fund, a nonprofit founded by singer/songwriter Paul Simon and Columbia public health authority Irwin Redlener that targets the nation's most medically underserved children.  Basch has signed on to help design the organization’s new Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative. This coming fall, supported by Jaguar Land Rover, Children's Health Fund will launch school-based pilot programs in New York City that will demonstrate what can be done with robust and systematic screening and management of health-related barriers to learning. Designed to last three to five years, the pilots will be rigorously evaluated all along the way. Specially trained health coordinators will follow evidenced-based protocols to connect children with the care and services they need. The first pilot program will be PS 49 in the South Bronx, and pilots at two additional schools will launch during the fall semester. 

Published Monday, Jul. 7, 2014


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