Harlem School Launches Health Program Designed to Remove Barriers to Learning for Underprivileged Children

H&M Conscious Foundation, Columbia’s Earth Institute and Children’s Health Fund Collaborate to Develop and Test School-Based Health Model
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NEW YORK, Sept. 26, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Many children in inner-city schools who have long faced economic hardships also struggle with chronic health conditions that further impair their ability to learn and break free from a cycle of poverty. To address this, the H&M Conscious Foundation announced today that it is investing $1.3 million to support an innovative school-based program in New York designed to tackle health barriers that get in the way of learning for underprivileged children. Evidence has shown that treating health conditions like asthma, poor vision and hearing impairments, hunger and anemia, dental pain, and behavioral issues can overall improve children’s educational progress and well-being.

The announcement was made at the Columbia University World Leaders Forum on Children in the Age of Sustainable Development, co-convened by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Earth Institute and the Global Child Forum. Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden attended the forum and provided the keynote speech.

“Education is so often the route out of poverty for children, but if they are held back from school success by a condition like chronic asthma, or they can’t see the blackboard, then the odds are stacked against them,” said Helena Thybell, Global Manager for the H&M Conscious Foundation. “We are excited by the potential of this new model to give children a chance to fulfill their potential by taking the obstacle of poor health out of their path.”

Working in collaboration with The Earth Institute, the H&M Conscious Foundation grant will enable Children’s Health Fund to implement its “Healthy and Ready to Learn” pilot program at PS 36, an elementary school where 85% of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. The Healthy and Ready to Learn team, which includes a full-time school health coordinator and a mental health professional, will screen for and address health barriers to learning in the school population of approximately 550 children in pre-K through 5th grade.

“For millions of American children, particularly the 20 percent who are living below the poverty line, there is a critical relationship between access to health care and each child’s chances for good health and readiness to learn,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute. “As the US addresses educational reform to improve school outcomes, improving access to health care for our children needs to be a fundamental part of the solution.”

The Healthy and Ready to Learn team will focus on identifying children experiencing health-related barriers to school success, connecting children to care and helping parents to understand and access the services their child might require. For example, with school now underway, the Healthy and Ready to Learn team has already ensured that all students have been screened for vision problems and have had a follow up examination by an optometrist to determine which children need glasses. For those who need, glasses are rapidly provided to them at no charge.

At PS 36, 35% of children are chronically absent, missing 20 or more school days per year. To reduce absenteeism that can be related to a medical or mental health issue, a new technology-based attendance-tracking tool will promote communication between school and parents. In addition to the health interventions, the model includes a social and emotional learning curriculum and classroom-based physical activity twice daily to improve cognition and school connectedness. As the project progresses, continuous measurement will assess the impact of the model first on reducing the prevalence of health barriers to learning and secondly on improving specific academic performance metrics, including attendance and promotion rates.

“Teachers in the nation’s underperforming schools face a classroom that may be filled with children who have untreated health problems that directly impede their capacity to learn. Educators, health professionals and parents need to be engaged in working toward every child’s ability to succeed in school,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, Co-Founder and President, Children’s Health Fund and Director, Program on Child Wellbeing and Resilience at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. “We are so thankful to H&M Conscious Foundation and our colleagues at the Earth Institute for providing the resources to develop the ‘Healthy and Ready to Learn’ model at Margaret Douglas Elementary School. This funding will provide robust screening protocols for health barriers to learning, aggressive follow up to ensure kids get the treatment needed for diagnosed conditions, and teacher and parent education so they can be effective partners in this effort. The lessons that we learn here will enable us to take this revolutionary new approach to scale across the country.”

Alek Wek, a South Sudanese model and Ambassador for the H&M Conscious Foundation presented the grant to the Earth Institute at the Global Child conference at Columbia University. The grant is part of the H&M Conscious Foundation’s growing portfolio of global philanthropy focused on education. It will significantly increase resources in the community of District 9 in West Harlem, where Columbia and the Earth Institute are already making significant investments.

H&M US plans to engage with the “Healthy and Ready to Learn” program. New York is one of H&M US’ biggest markets with 13 stores. In the years ahead, H&M US will roll-out an employee volunteerism initiative and other activities to raise awareness of the impact of health barriers to learning with the goal of ensuring that more kids are healthy and ready to learn.

“H&M US cares about the local community,” said Daniel Kulle, Country Manager for H&M US. “We have approximately 14,000 employees in the US and we’re always looking to connect with the communities where there are stores through local hiring and initiatives like this project in Harlem. We look forward to encouraging our employees to work together to aid in addressing these local needs.”

“I applaud this innovative program and look forward to its successful implementation,” said Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden. The Global Child Forum, which co-convened the World Leaders Forum event, is an organization initiated by Her Majesty and her husband His Majesty the King of Sweden in 2009. “We all need to ensure a sustainable world where children´s rights are fully respected and supported. This meeting showed the strength of partnership and cooperation between different stakeholders in the society—all in the best interest of the child.”

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