Making School the Heartbeat of the Community

By Liz Thorne, VP of Policy and Programs

I had been anticipating the grand opening of Faubion K-8 School, in Portland Oregon, this Fall for both personal and professional reasons. Most importantly, it is our neighborhood school. My daughter will be starting kindergarten there next year. As someone who works in school health and public health, the opening of Faubion also embodies so many of the practices we know are effective in supporting the health and academic achievement of young people.


A bit of background. Faubion is physically located right next to Concordia University, a private liberal arts college. Concordia has a school of education, and for years they have partnered with Faubion to provide student-teachers with experience in the classroom.

Out of this partnership grew 3 to PhD. The first of it’s kind in the nation, the model aims to create safer, healthier and more educated communities from early learning through Pursuing one’s Highest Dreams (PhD).  In 2012 a Portland Public School bond was approved that included a rebuild of Faubion because of the strong partnership with Concordia and the 3 to PhD program.


The new Faubion + Concordia building houses Faubion K-8 classrooms and Concordia’s school of education. It includes:

  • An early childhood education center for up to 120 children,
  • A 2,500 square foot Kaiser Permanente 3 to PhD Wellness center serving Faubion students and Concordia students;
  • Wraparound mental and behavioral health services by Trillium Family Services;
  • And a food club with healthy, organic foods by basics.

At the grand opening I heard District, City and State leaders and parents stand up at the podium and speak about the importance of health for students to succeed. I heard them say that if we are to close the achievement gap we need to address the needs of the student, family, and community. This is returning the school as the heartbeat of the community.

Partnership. Addressing the needs of the whole child. Involving community partners (parents, business, higher education, health care providers). Preparing the new generation of educators and education leaders to look beyond curriculum and teaching strategies to educate our young people. These are things experts in school health consistently site as the factors that lead to institutionalizing health in education.

So while the new building is truly amazing (the playground! It has a zip line!) it’s these other factors that inspire and excite me, as a professional, parent, and community member.


The Case for More Love in Education

By Liz Thorne

I was recently in Austin, Texas for the 6th annual Ready by 21 Annual Meeting. Organized by the Forum for Youth Investment, the meeting focuses on ensuring all youth are ready and prepared to meet life’s demands. It brought together folks in youth development, program quality, education, government and community based organizations all focused on ensuring youth are ready.

A major focus of the meeting was on promoting equity through the lens of readiness as a right. It’s not enough to help young people beat the odds but we need to work with the adults and leaders in communities to change the odds.

Research tells us that just one supportive adult relationship can help buffer young people against risk and help them overcome challenging life circumstances. But let’s zoom out and talk about supportive communities, or as Dr. Shawn Ginwright describes, radical healing.

In his keynote, Dr. Ginwright compared the idea of radical healing to experiments conducted on plants. Researchers would place one plant in a chamber of poisonous gas to test the plant’s response. As you might expect, the plant shriveled and died. But, when the researchers placed multiple, or a community, of plants they didn’t die. Rather, they cleaned the air of the poisonous gas. Together the community of plants garnered their collective strength to change their circumstances.

How can we harness the collective strength of communities to change the odds for youth? During Dr. Ginwright’s address on radical healing, there were three thoughts going through my head as this relates to our work in adolescent and school health:

  • We have to take care of the adults in schools. Youth are often placed at the center of our work. Resources, opportunities, and training must be made available to provide physical, emotional and professional support to the adults that show up every day. Particularly, educators and professionals working in economically disadvantaged schools or communities, and those who have faced generations of trauma and marginalization.
  • We need more opportunities for Participatory Action Research or experiential learning opportunities.  PAR is one way for young people to reach into their community, examine the context and begin to understand and garner their strength as an agent of change.
  • There is room in ESSA for a focus on readiness, but we need advocates in the states. ESSA provides an opening, but we will need to focus on state-level efforts to address social, emotional and physical needs of students and staff in schools. (Check out our ESSA State Plan Page for more information). 
Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Whether you call it a supportive relationship, radical healing or trauma-informed education, to me it all boils down to one thing. More love in education. Showing, not just telling our young people, that they are valued. Demonstrating they are valued by equipping them with the skills to harness their power and change their environment for the better. Dr. Enwright ended his keynote with a quote from Dr. King that I think sums up the relationship between love and power.





Safe and Sound, KET Special Report

We used to think a person’s IQ would determine professional success. Now we know that the first year of life may determine a lot more than we once thought.

Last week I attended the premiere viewing of Kentucky Educational Television's (KET) Special Report called "Safe and Sound; Raising Emotionally Healthy Children in a Stressful World," produced by Laura Krueger, and in part funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. The report discusses the impact of trauma and toxic stress among children and focuses on early life experiences. A child who experiences toxic stress (not being held, needs not being met, divorce, exposure to violence, neglect) is more likely to have behavioral and emotional issues in the future. The Report discusses, in fact that adults with weight problems and overeating addictions are more likely to have experienced toxic stress as a child. We have to reduce adverse childhood experiences because chronic or toxic stress, if extreme or persistent enough, will result in your body unable to recover.

The Report does a fabulous job addressing some of the solutions and programs that are happening around our state.  In Kentucky, over 20,000 youth have an incarcerated parent. At the Mason County Detention Center, within the substance abuse recovery program, Angela Mitchell from UK Extension teaches parenting classes to the men. Yelling and fighting are not good for babies brains. And, physical punishment should be removed as a way to discipline children.The HANDS Program through the KY Department of Health works with families by going to their homes and teaching them parenting skills. The Portland Promise Center is more of a peer to peer support group and has a resource called Ages and Stages which encourages parents to complete to know if their child is Kindergarten ready. If not, they are linked with resources in the community to help that child get on track. The START program works with parents with addiction issues in which their addiction has meant social services has taken their children away. The START program provides counseling and support around addiction with the hopes that these parents go into recovery and are able to effectively parent their children.

Symptoms of youth who have undergone toxic stress include having no empathy, attention deficit, misbehave to get attention. We tend to treat the symptoms with medication, never understanding the root cause. The Report encourages that any parent struggling with parenting skills or their child's behavior should access support. 

This Report was incredibly well-done and helps explain some of the behavioral issues we see in the K-12 setting. Addressing the emotional problems children have early and supporting all parents with education, awareness and support would help create healthier families and a healthier community.

If you would like to see a preview, click here.

60% of children in the US are being raised successfully attached. 40% of parents are raising their children insecurely attached.

Resources to Support School Health

Yesterday I posted a list of resources specific to the field of K-12 school health education. Today, I'm going to share a list of resources within the larger field of school health that I refer to regularly. I know there are many more out there. I'll attempt to categorize for ease of finding information! If you have others to share, email me and I'll add them to this post!



Partnering for Success: How Health Departments Work and How to Work with Health Departments- This is a great resource especially useful for schools to understand how to partner with their local health departments to work together to create a culture of health within the school environment.

How Schools Work & How to Work with Schools- Great tool for individuals or organizations that want to work with schools, but scratch their head because they function so differently! This tool is worth the $5!


Research to Support School Health

Healthier Students are Better Learners- A fabulous 'essay' written by Charles E. Basch used widely that addresses how health-related problems among youth are affecting our students' ability to achieve. Make the case to your administrator or leadership using this document!


Research Review:
School-based Health Interventions and Academic Achievement 
- Fabulous report by Julia Dilley. From document, "Research Review: School-based Health Interventions and Academic Achievement provides important new evidence that links students’ health and academic performance. It identifies proven health interventions and practical resources that can positively affect both student health and academic achievement."


Implementing a Coordinated School Health Program (CSHP)

Tools That Work! - This is a toolkit developed by the MIssissippi Department of Education and provides a CSH guide to building a healthy school.


Aligning Health and Education Accountability Measures

I have an article from CCSSO called Incorporating Health into Education Accountability Systems, however I can't find it online. Contact me if you want more information!


Safe Routes to School

School Nurses as Safe Routes to School Champions Improving the Built Environment and Increasing Physical Activity 

Safe Routes to School State Network Project: Final Report, 2007–2009; Making Change Through Partners and Policies 


Sexual Health

Oregon Youth Sexual Health Plan- this document is a part of a larger state-wide approach to increasing the sexual health of adolescents in Oregon. However, objective #5 is on Providing Education and skill building for youth and families and includes comprehensive sex education language and goals.  


Return on Investment

Investment in School Health Capacity; Payoffs in Health, Achievement and Stronger Communities - Fantastic document (yes, I helped review!) put together by Oregon Health Authority, the Public Health Division and good colleagues/friends of mine that not only defines core capacity as "(1) having a school health coordinator; (2) conducting a health focused self-assessment1; (3) having a health-related School Improvement Plan goal and objective; and (4) having a school health advisory group that includes an administrator and a community member. Together these components represent the staffing, data, leadership, accountability, and broad support that is needed to effectively support health and achievement in school settings" but discusses the dollar return on investment when schools or districts implement school health programs. A must-read document. I hope it drives further studies and is used as a tool to advocate for the fiscal reason we should be working on school health. 



State School Health Policy Matrix- From the website: "The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), along with the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) and American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) have worked together to develop this guide to state-level school health policies for the following topics: competitive foods and beverages, physical education and physical activity, and administration of medication in the school environment. The State School Health Policy Matrix outlines relevant state-level policies for each of these areas, including a direct link to the policy. It also it indicates which political entity or agency adopted the policy or issued guidance, helping to an­swer the question – Who has historically had the authority to make policy changes in the areas of competitive foods and beverages, physical education and physical activity, and administration of medication in each state?"


Administrative Support

What School Administrators Can Do to Enhance Student Learning by Supporting a Coordinated Approach to Health 


School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs)

Promoting Healthy Youth, Schools, and Communities- A Guide to Community-School Health CouncilsI still refer to this guide that helps support a school or district in developing what we know, is one of the most important aspects of creating a sustainable school health program. 

Return on Investment for School Health

Recently the Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division released an executive summary and full report called, Investment in School Health Capacity; Payoffs in Health, Achievement and Stronger Communities. I foresee this document helping to support many around the nation implement school health programs. 

Basically this report makes the fiscal case that working on school health IS worth it. Not just for the health and well-being of our youth and staff in schools. Not just for our communities. Not just to raise test scores and grades. Not just to raise the graduation rates. Not just to increase attendance. Not just to send consistent messages to everyone about health. But, because it's fiscally responsible. 

The report shares that in order for schools to do this work, they need to have an infrastructure in place. The report calls this benchmark "Core Capacity". They then estimated the return on investment (ROI) of implementing Core Capacity in every public secondary school in Oregon. "Core Capacity", or what I call school health infrastructure (those things that need to be in place to build a sustainable school health program) are:

  1. School-level health coordinator
  2. Health Focused health assessment, examples include Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Schools Program Inventory and CDCs School Health Index
  3. Health goal and objective in a School Improvement Plan. This means linking school health to education accountability measures.
  4. School Health Advisory Council- also called School Wellness Councils 

I encourage you to read the executive summary and full reports here. But, I'll share a couple of major findings:

  • The graduation rates for students in schools with Core Capacity were higher for all groups of students than for students in schools without Core Capacity.
  • The expectation is that between $5.24 to $6.62 would be saved for every dollar spent to achieve Core Capacity in all Oregon public secondary schools.

Know your audience. If you need to make the case for doing school health work, find out who your audience is and what they care about. Graduation rates? Test scores? Attendance? Healthier kids? Healthier staff? Return on Investment (fiscal)? Healthier communities? We have more and more research on all of these connections. Contact me if you need resources! I would be happy to support YOU making the case for school health.