Linking Health and Education in the Middle Grades
by Gordon M. Ambach - 1993
Health education and health promotion should involve all school personnel. Schools must provide reliable health information and offer special relationships for each student with at least one caring adult, particularly in middle school. Caring relationships provide examples of personal relationships that schools expect students to exhibit when they mature. (Source: ERIC)
One of the critical roles of the chief state school officer and of state education agencies is vigorous cheerleading. It is being out there in the front and advocating that it is absolutely essential to see health and education joined together. You cannot have good health without good education, and you cannot have good education without good health. People have to continue to say this over and over again, and then carry that simple message into their dealings with legislators, governors, Congress, and the president. It may seem simple, but it is the kind of thing we must do to pull our efforts together.
Focused around the first national education goalreadiness for schoolthere has been an interesting turning of heads toward linking health and education. If you were to sit in on the deliberations of the National Education Goals Panel, where they are struggling with the question of how one measures readiness for school, you would hear more than debate about whether children should go to pre-kindergarten or start pre-kindergarten at the age of three or four. You would hear discussion about what measures there should be with respect to the availability of prenatal care and nutrition, what measures of health services and child care from birth until pre-kindergarten.
The debate about joining health and education goes on in many places. The principal issue must be the penetration of a concern for good health throughout the schools. By penetration, I mean that the message becomes a commitment for each and every person who is working with children. I am not slighting the experts, the health educators or those who are expert in health care who are working in the schools. But, as you and I look now at cutbacks in education and health, and as we look at the difficulty in making certain that every child is healthy and well educated, we realize this is a task for everyone, not just experts. We have to keep pounding away at prevention. That means working with all personnel in the schools.
The schools must provide reliable and persuasive information about health to overcome the misinformation of the streets. The schools must provide a special relationship for each student with at least one caring adult. The caring adult should be someone familiar enough with the student to serve as a mentor, coach, or confidant; someone who can enable the student to get to the right point of information and expert service when needed.
The relationship of each student to a caring adult is particularly important in our middle schools. There we must overcome the impersonal environment and facelessness of the student body. The condition of student anonymity is caused in large part by population mobility and large school size, which impede efforts toward genuine caring connections. The schools must make a special effort to provide caring relationships. They must provide examples of the kinds of personal relationships we expect as the behaviors we intend students to exhibit when they are adults. The way that happens is for all those persons who are in the schools to live and work that way in their schools.
The scope of the challenge before us is immense. The more anyone thinks about the penetration of responsibility throughout the entire school personnel population2½ million individuals-the greater seems the task. It requires substantial commitment to staff development for the adults who must have this caring relationship.
If I were selecting one strategy to push across our country to improve the health and education of students at the middle-grades level, it would be to assure a caring relationship between each student and at least one adult in school and at least one adult outside of school, and, furthermore-to assure these three individuals know each other well. If we could make that happen, it would be a very significant gain.
Let me conclude with one thought about the importance of public officials connecting funding streams in health and education at the local, state, and federal levels. This is the prime task to which policymakers must give attention. We can approach connections of services by way of spinning up new organizational arrangements, coordinating councils, and other devices. Sometimes they are important, but they are not nearly as important as having responsible officials at federal, state, and local levels think through the problems at the point-of-service contact and ask the question, How can I change the flow of our agency funds to connect them with other sources and make something more effective happen? That is collaboration. That is really connecting health and education.