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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Health and academics are connected

A common opinion is that schools should be focusing on the academic achievement of the student and not be concerned about the health of the student. In January, Bridge Michigan had an article entitled “Some Michigan parents question whether schools should have health clinics,” which noted that a few local school boards had declined funding for school-based health clinics.

Dayna Bennett headshot
Dayna Bennett is a certified family nurse practitioner in Oakland County.

Pushing back on the efforts to allow student access to health care is questionable given the current situation of student health. Some students are experiencing increases in mental health concerns, chronic health conditions like asthma and diabetes, substance misuse, drug overdoses and sexually transmitted infections.  

The care of the student with a chronic health condition often falls on school staff who do not have the training or resources to fully support the student while in their care for the school day. Schools and parents need to be ready.

Health and academics are connected.  Yes, the fundamental mission of schools is to educate students, however, health-related problems play a major role in restricting the ability to learn (Michael, et al, 2015 & Basch (2010)

According to a 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40% of school-aged children and adolescents in the United States live with at least one chronic health condition diagnosis, such as asthma, diabetes, and learning and behavior problems. 

Post pandemic — federally the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency was declared over in May 2023 — getting back to school has been slow. Attendance rates need to be improved especially here in Michigan. A Florida study, conducted pre-pandemic, offers insights into the connection between health and absenteeism. In that study, 92.4% of students indicated health concerns were the reason they were sometimes or usually absent from school.   

School health services are important for students. School health services provide support to promote the health of students in the school setting.  School-based health centers (SBHCs) are onsite or linked off-site health-care services for elementary, middle and high school students. 

The National Association of School Nurses describes school nurses as  the leaders who bridge health care and education, provide care coordination, advocate for quality student-centered care, and collaborate to design systems that allow individuals and communities to develop their full potential”.

Some advantages to having a school nurse are that the school nurse is accountable to the school community, saves time for secretaries, teachers, principals and assists schools with emergency preparedness. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all schools have a minimum of one registered professional school nurse to provide health services.

For students who do not have a regular health care provider, SBHCs and school nurses provide access to health care, increase quality of life, and increase academic achievement. Both approaches work well together to advance the health and well-being of students. Employing both strategies may not be right for each local school district. Nothing is worse than starting up a clinic and no one utilizes services. Gathering data on your school community and engaging in outreach to parents is essential for the long-term success of students. However, having a school nurse gives a school foundational universal support.  

James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” said, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” Endlessly reacting to problems is exhausting.  Essential for the 21st-century school setting is having school health services led by a school nurse to provide ongoing student health support to schools. We all want our students to achieve success, some will need extra help to get there. Who’s your school nurse?

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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