Original article written by Jane E. Brody for New York Times.
School children have had an especially challenging time navigating the tedious months of the pandemic, with recent reports showing that students fell four to seven months behind in math and reading compared to previous years, and with the most vulnerable students showing the steepest declines.
Bringing health care to schools
School-based health centers are a cardinal feature of community schools and other public schools that have increasingly recognized how difficult it is for many children to get their health problems adequately detected and treated. Such challenges may be especially acute for those living in low-income urban centers or rural areas. If a parent has to take time off from work or find a babysitter, or if transportation is unavailable or unaffordable to get a child to a medical visit, needed services are too often neglected until there’s a crisis, experts have said.
The nonprofit Paramount Health Data Project, which recently published a report on students’ health conditions in public and private schools in Indiana, found that the more often children visited the school nurse, the poorer their academic achievement on statewide tests, Azure Angelov, the project’s director, told me. The project’s data suggest “that students who are frequent visitors to the school nurse are simply unhealthy and frequently do not feel well during the school day,” Dr. Angelov and colleagues wrote in the
It is just this kind of coordination and follow-through provided by school-based health centers, thousands of which now exist nationwide, said Dr. Freudenberg.
Although hunger and nutrition are increasingly being addressed by schools and supported by federal programs, mental health issues like depression and anxiety often fall under the radar. When teachers think a child is struggling with emotional issues, having publicly supported services in or near the school can improve that child’s academic performance, Dr. Freudenberg said.
Furthermore, school-based health centers are often open to families and can connect parents to needed health services for themselves or others in the household.
“Students K through 12 are likely to have health concerns during the course of their lives that can and should be addressed by schools to improve learning as well as their health,” Dr. Freudenberg said. “Schools can help them learn how to cope with difficult interpersonal situations.” For example, in New York City, he said, school-based health programs that provide sexual and reproductive care have helped lower the rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy, enabling more young people to stay in school.
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