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Schools Cannot Thrive Until All of Us Thrive

A Message from Annie Reed, National Director of Thriving Schools

At Kaiser Permanente, we are working every day to build school communities where students, staff, and teachers thrive in health and in learning. Consistent with our mission and vision, we have laid a strong foundation for equity and inclusion in how we deliver health care and provide for the health needs of our communities. And that same foundation is at the heart of Thriving Schools.

The past several months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the systemic inequities it has amplified alongside the recent murder of George Floyd and so many others truly underscore the ways racism has affected African Americans and other communities of color. We must confront this racism head on in our communities. This includes schools, which are centers of learning and touchpoints for social support services.

Schools can either exacerbate or heal inequities and have had a history of doing both, particularly in the ways they treat students of color. Systemic inequality, with its roots in racism and other forms of discrimination, often gives rise to community violence, which in turn causes trauma and impacts learning. Teachers and school staff need to be trained in how to identify and address this trauma in students, as well as care for themselves as they experience vicarious trauma, lest they react in ways that engender more harm to students, compromising their health and learning potential.

Education is one, if not the strongest, predictor of health outcomes. The very premise of addressing health in schools is grounded in the work of creating environments that remove barriers to learning, especially those that are disproportionately experienced by low-income communities and communities of color. In doing so, Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools seeks to create school environments where all students, teachers, and staff feel welcome and supported in an inclusive environment. This is manifested in the work we do, how we do it, and whom we do it with.

The signature initiatives of Thriving Schools — Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) and Resilience in School Environments (RISE) — were developed to address some of the most pressing health concerns affecting teaching and learning, particularly among schools and districts with the fewest resources to address those issues. The content of these initiatives explicitly addresses equity and inclusion, both in the questions posed by our assessment tools and in the professional development content we offer for school staff and district leaders. Together with other school health and educational partners, we provide these resources at no cost to schools and districts around the country. This ensures that, regardless of their ability to pay, schools have access to high-quality resources and support to address the health concerns that influence their core business of teaching and learning. 

Our commitment to doing more

We recognize that there are many factors that contribute to health, and that health is deeply impacted by the systemic racial and economic inequities that exist in our society. Addressing health in schools demands that we address these broader social factors that drive health and education outcomes. That is why we are evolving our strategy to work more deliberately with schools and districts to meet the needs of those who face food insecurity, housing instability, and lack of economic opportunity. And in doing so, we know we must recognize how communities of color experience these challenges, time and again, at higher rates than their white counterparts.

As Kaiser Permanente’s CEO, Greg Adams, expressed in his recent response to the events of the past several weeks, the right to health, to happiness, to equality is not a right for some but for all: “At Kaiser Permanente, we’ve always believed that everyone has a right to thrive. We see a future where our members and the people in our communities experience more healthy years so they can live the lives they want — to learn, to work, to play, to love.”

We have laid a strong foundation for equity and inclusion in how we designed Thriving Schools. Yet, we know we have much more work to do as a society to continue to dismantle racism, root out health disparities, heal the pain that individuals and communities of color have experienced, and advance opportunities for all people to attain educational success and live healthy, productive lives. We are committed to this work, in school communities and beyond, and welcome your partnership along the way.

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