Linda Langford, Guest Contributor
As a mother of three, I am always in search of ways to multi-task or as my 85 year-old mother says, “Kill two birds with one stone.” Resources are always limited so whenever we can accomplish two goals while using the same resource, it is a definite checkmark in the “Win” column. Places where educational resources are greatly limited are in our urban cities, and community schools have been one way to alleviate the inequity in those areas. While community schools have proven to be effective in helping meet the academic and social needs of students, perhaps even more important, is the role that community schools can play in public health as well.
Catherine Diamond and Nicholas Freudenberg state that “healthy students have higher rates of academic success and, over a lifetime, people of education experience better heath than their less educated counterparts” (2). They continue to explain that “interactions between health and education create a cycle of disadvantage. Students in poor neighborhoods have worse educational outcomes leading to worse health outcomes later in life” (2). If we can somehow break the cycle, we not only improve the education of those students but perhaps improve their health as well.
It is a great idea but how can this be done? Diamond and Freudenberg propose that community schools can provide services to improve public health through three pathways: extended education, health care access, and wellness and safety (7-9). Through extended education, families can take classes such as parenting, career, GED, and summer programs for children. These classes teach skills to help a person further their education which in turn improves their health. Second, providing health care access for general health, vision, dental, and mental are key to helping students and families stay healthy as well as helping teens and adults avoid substance abuse and violent crimes. Last, programs that promote health such as cooking classes, family life/human sexuality workshops, and family counseling are just a few courses where families learn the habits of a healthy lifestyle.
So, I propose that educational leaders not only look at the academic and social advantages of community schools, but perhaps push forward knowing that public health is an integral part of the plan. Or as Diamond and Freudenberg explain, “Applying a public health lens to community schools is appropriate because their explicit mission is to have a population effect, a goal that other school models may not embrace.” (3) This means working with state and local government, reaching out to organizations in your community with a health and wellness focus, and asking businesses and churches to contribute toward public health is vital.
By providing the scaffolding of a community school, educational leaders allow the community to pull together to support its families’ health and in turn its educational goals too. Thus, using only one stone to get the job done.
Diamond, Catherine, and Nicholas Freudenberg. “Community Schools: a Public Health Opportunity to Reverse Urban Cycles of Disadvantage.” Journal of Urban Health, vol. 93, no. 6, Oct. 2016, pp. 923–939., doi:10.1007/s11524-016-0082-5.
Linda Langford is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.