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How the National Healthy Schools Collaborative is Building Integration Among Leaders in Health and Education

When the coronavirus pandemic first started spreading across the U.S., it brought many everyday activities to a sudden standstill. Schools were forced to quickly close their doors to slow the spread of the virus, and families had to find alternatives to classroom learning, child care, health care, daily meal sustenance, and more.

And while the pandemic may be best remembered for the disruption it created in people’s lives, it motivated leaders of organizations working to support the health of schools and communities to coordinate their work and strategies toward a common and urgent sense of purpose.

One of the results is the National Healthy Schools Collaborative, a diverse collective of nationally recognized school and health organizations that have long understood that health is an essential precondition for teaching and learning.

“The National Healthy Schools Collaborative started out as an informal gathering of national partners from both health and education during the early stages of the pandemic,” explains Annie Reed, DrPH, MPP, Executive Director for Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools & Communities who is the primary convenor of the Collaborative.

“Over the next 2 years, it evolved into a highly visible coalition with strong national organizations that, by group consensus, recognized the need for a shared agenda to make meaningful change around health in education.”

Progress and milestone accomplishments

In a relatively short period of time, the Collaborative has made notable strides in building connections and greater integration among leaders in public health, health care, and education. Examples include:

Listening to the emerging needs of schools during the early days of the pandemic

In the early months of 2020, the Collaborative had regular conference calls to address the urgent health and educational needs of schools, districts, staff, students, and families. Collaborative partners shared information on their websites and facilitated a series of webinars aimed at helping educators and district leaders through the tumult. They also surveyed educators about their school health priorities and needs to find out how they were managing through such an abrupt shift in their routines.

Creating a comprehensive guide to support healthy schools

In July 2020, the Collaborative launched the Planning for the New Normal Playbook to provide guidance to schools and districts as they worked through all the considerations required to return to a safe and healthy learning environment for students, staff, and families. The playbook was shared through a number of communications channels by the Collaborative partners, including distribution by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Subsequent iterations of the playbook were released in late 2020 and in the spring of 2021.

Developing a Ten-Year Roadmap for Healthy Schools (coming March 2022)

The pandemic has spurred public interest in healthy school environments and a recognition that a bold agenda — one that advocates for shared responsibility for healthy schools across education, health care, and public health — is needed to support school communities into the next decade. This spring, the Collaborative will be formally launching and sharing its Ten-Year Roadmap for Healthy Schools to encourage action around that agenda.

The vision for the roadmap is to better coordinate and accelerate equitable funding, policies, and practices to advance the health and learning connection so that every school succeeds, every educator excels, and every child thrives. The roadmap will offer specific recommendations to meet the academic, mental, social-emotional, and physical needs of all students, families, and educators. Key elements of the roadmap include guidance for supporting the health of school staff and teachers, as well as students.

The Path Ahead

Creating healthy school communities — where students’ and educators’ mental, physical, social-emotional health, and safety are foundational — requires that all sectors of our society work together. The National Healthy Schools Collaborative hopes that its efforts will help to focus the actions of leaders from across those sectors to reach better health and academic outcomes for our nation’s schools.

We invite you to stay informed of our progress here and to watch for the Ten-Year Roadmap for Healthy Schools to be released in the coming weeks.

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