Let’s Use Summer Months to Integrate Health Supports and School Services

Summer is a time when educators take stock of the past year and ready themselves for the school year ahead. It’s a critical period of reflection, learning, decision making, and intention setting. It’s also a time of inward focus for most schools—and that should change. 

Academic achievement is influenced by a range of societal and structural factors that exist beyond the walls of a traditional school. Most public schools would benefit from a planning agenda that coordinates the inner happenings of the school with the out-of-school conditions for student success. In addition to academics, schools should view summer-readying activities as a time to take on cross-sector planning and resourcing that aims to reduce some of the structural barriers many students encounter. 

Coordinating conversations can take place with local nonprofits that are positioned to offer expanded learning opportunities that reinforce a school’s curriculum and align with education standards. School officials can also work with pediatric healthcare and social service providers in their communities to integrate health supports into school services. Examples include developing partnerships with early care and education providers to support a seamless transition from preschool to the K-12 system, coordinating increased access to behavioral health counseling that addresses both mental health and substance use disorders, and working with community health homes to determine how efforts between the health and education systems can complement one another along the school readiness dimensions of social and emotional wellbeing, cognitive development, physical health, and motor skills development.

Schools will find ready partners in the health care sectors as there has long been recognition that school engagement and performance is a key indicator of wellbeing and a predictor of future health and good health is necessary to be ready to learn. Schools and health care providers are natural allies who are both focused on the success and wellbeing of children. They also share an understanding that the challenges facing many children, such as homelessness, food insecurity, and neighborhood violence, affect both their chances of success in school and their health. 

Many of the children who face these challenges are covered by Medicaid—the largest source of federal spending on children, with an estimated $90 billion spent on children in 2017. Medicaid is commonly used by schools to fund health needs for Medicaid eligible students with individualized education programs (IEPs), vision and dental needs, asthma monitoring, and more. However, there is an opportunity for the health care community to be more intentional when it comes to investing in strong developmental foundations for children.

In fact, there is growing support to adopt school readiness as a Medicaid performance measure—an innovative way to systemically improve child wellbeing. New York and Oregon have piloted state-wide initiatives that aim to build the case for the creation of Medicaid metrics that incorporate school performance and rely on integrated models of support by both the education and healthcare systems.

All school leaders can draw inspiration from these statewide pilots and the emerging support for Medicaid performance measures that incorporate school readiness when developing cross-sector partnerships to better serve children. Educators and pediatric health care leaders are recognizing that the development of cross-sector systems of support is becoming a national imperative since government spending, especially that of the federal government, on children dwindles.

We believe that coordinated resources, shared goals, and dedicated cross-sector collaboration can create remarkable outcomes. With the support of place-based funders, FSG has worked with communities in Michigan, Virginia, California, Nebraska, New York, Texas and more around the world on such projects. For example, FSG worked with Children’s Medical Center in Dallas to dramatically improved asthma outcomes among children there. In 3 years, this multisector coalition led to almost a 50 percent decrease in emergency department visits for asthma. With their asthma under better control, children miss fewer days of school and are positioned to do better in school. That is truly a win-win situation for children and their families. 

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