Reducing Health Disparities to Close the Achievement Gap

In December, Jake Murray – the Senior Director of the Aspire Institute, participated in a forum run by the Boston Public Schools called “Reducing Health Disparities to Close the Achievement Gap”. Along with special guests Mayor Thomas M. Menino and BPS Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, the group discussed the link between healthy students and better learning. A roundtable discussion on school/community partnerships for health and wellness was facilitated by Jake, with participants from the Boston Foundation , the Children’s Hospital of Boston , and the Young Achievers Math and Science Pilot School . The keynote speaker, Dr. Charles Basch of the Teachers College at Columbia University, gave a speech entitled “Healthier Students are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms”.

This forum was based on a report published by Aspire in collaboration with the Boston Public Schools Health and Wellness Taskforce that developed a strategic plan outlining key steps for improving the district’s organizational capacity to address student health and wellness outcome areas. The report explains that addressing student health and wellness is vital if children are to arrive to school ready to learn and schools are to fulfill their core mission. It cites research that suggests that children with physical and mental health conditions have higher absenteeism and dropout rates, feel less connected to schools, and perform worse on cognitive and academic assessments than students without such conditions.

The report outlined three strategic goals:
– Improve student fitness
– Promote healthy student behaviors and engagement
– Improve school-based health care

The strategies suggested to achieve these goals are to revise the district’s health and wellness organizational structure, improve the district’s health and wellness systems, improve the district’s capacity to promote health and wellness, and improve health and wellness accountability. One early step towards accomplishing these strategies is a new website , recently launched by the Boston Public Schools. Additionally, BPS added fitness and health programs in summer 2011 that included healthier meals, health education and physical education. That press release is available here [editor’s note: link no longer exists].

To learn more about the Healthy Connections report, find it in the Aspire website’s  reports section  or download it here .