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Making the Connection Between Healthy Schools and Equity

Kaiser Permanente believes every school across the nation deserves equitable access to supports for physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being so that every school succeeds, every school employee excels, and every child thrives.

Racial inequities have been historically rooted in our structural systems, including education, with COVID-19 further highlighting the disproportionate impacts on students of color. Educational disparities mean students of color face high hurdles to improved learning outcomes further limiting their ability to lead economically prosperous and healthy lives. That is because the places where we live, learn, work, and play shape our health in many ways. Life expectancy, chronic disease and mental health status can all be affected by one’s access, or lack thereof, to a quality education. Understanding that, Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools believes healthy schools are more important now than ever.

Healthy schools, defined as those that recognize and advance mental, physical, social, and emotional well-being, but also prioritize creating and sustaining systems, policies, practices, and facilities that promote equity, are critical to improved and more equitable academic learning and healthier lives, but also greater racial equity in our communities.

Earlier this year, we partnered with Child Trends, a national research organization focused solely on improving the lives of children and youth. Together, we explored the intersections between health and education and how they can contribute to, or remediate, racial inequity. The following briefs highlight how healthy schools can advance racial equity and promote healthier populations.

Mitigating Ongoing Racial Inequities in Education
This brief looks at six key educational areas through which schools can leverage health strategies to promote racial equity. Highlights include mitigating racially school reliance on discipline; reducing racial disparities in the identification of students with disabilities; and limiting exposure to environmental risks.

Creating More Racially Equitable Communities
This brief looks at how improved academic learning environments can lead to better health care outcomes for communities. Highlights include increasing school-based health services; providing alternatives to youth incarceration; providing resources to support basic needs; and reducing childhood exposure to environmental health hazards.

As we move beyond the pandemic, we must recognize how racial inequity manifests and contributes to inequities in health and education. Dismantling long-standing imbalances in schools requires recognizing the deep-rooted problems in our health and education systems, while highlighting tangible solutions that reflect the socioeconomic and racial diversity of our communities. We invite both educators and health care professionals to help us lead this work to create just futures and equitable opportunities.

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