Healthy Children Learn Better: Haley Nelson
(M.S., Community Health Education)
Life Before TC:
As a teaching fellow in China’s rural Yunnan Province, Haley Nelson had an epiphany about the connection between health and educational disparities when her eight-year-old student unexpectedly returned a piece of candy that he had won in a class review game. When asked why, he opened his mouth wide and pointed to a blackened, decayed tooth: “It hurts too much to eat.”
“In the community where I was living, there was very poor access to dental care,” recalls Nelson. It was just one of “the health-related barriers that were visibly affecting my students’ ability to learn in the classroom.”
The Atlanta native and film production graduate from the University of Southern California turned that observation into a career aspiration and brought it to Teachers College, where she has worked to advocate for student health as a necessary precursor to student success in educational settings.
At TC, Nelson got involved with the Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative of the Children’s Health Fund, which partners with three public elementary schools in New York City. With a full-time school health coordinator and mental health clinician in each school, the program works with school staff and families to identify and address common health barriers that affect student attention, attendance, and behavior in the classroom. Nelson receives her masters of science in Community Health Education this May.
After graduation, Nelson, 26, plans to continue working with school-based health programs, and eventually pursue a doctorate in the intersection of public health, education and public policy. Combining those three elements into an interdisciplinary career is her long-term goal.
“The opportunity to explore new ways by which health can be leveraged to better support the success of the whole child within the school environment is what I’m looking for,” she says.
Published Friday, May 6, 2016