I see healthcare issues every single day in my classes. They invade my lesson plans, they spoil labs, they get in the way of homework being completed, and they cause quizzes not to be finished. My school serves a high population of English Language Learners (ELL) who are refugees from over 100 different countries, so some of the health problems that I see are sometimes even “third world.” The fact that we do not even have a nurse to serve our school population of almost 800 students means that sometimes I, along with Google, get to be a nurse as well as a teacher.
One student more than any other stands out in my mind at the example of how a health care issue that could have been prevented impeded his ability to learn. Shane is a high achieving student, meaning that he scored in the upper percentile on the CRCT last year; he is a good student. He started to miss days of school and would frequently leave early, he was unfocused when he was in class, and he would often put his head down. One day, his mom came in and asked for his work, because he would be out for two weeks; he had to have emergency surgery because of a tooth abscess. She then went on to elaborate that his tooth abscess had been so bad that the hospital called DFACS because for his abscess to be at the point that it was indicated parental negligence.
This story points to a few reoccurring and underlying themes of healthcare issue in the classroom. Shane, although he was in an unthinkable amount of pain, did not want to add to the stresses of his mom. He shares her same concerns of being able to pay rent, being able to make the energy bill, and to be able to afford food. So, instead of telling her the pain that he was in, he kept it to himself because he knew affordable healthcare was not available to him. Furthermore, if Shane had been going to regular dental checkups, this could have been avoided. But again, this type of health care is simply not available to many low income students.
As a classroom teacher, I'd love to have readily available and healthcare to my students; even if it as basic as someone who can take their temperature when they are feeling ill. The myriad of illnesses from mental, to dental, to eye care, to basic hygiene, that I encounter on a daily basis go largely overlooked, even though they greatly impede learning. Because a large number of educators are not aware of the resources available for students, they often see these illnesses as something that they have to work with, rather than something that they can fix.
I believe that the solution to the issue of poor health in low income student populations is twofold. First, I believe by bringing in healthcare education into the classroom, not only will students be more comfortable expressing when they are not in good health, but they will also be able to identify their own healthcare concerns and ultimately prevent them. Finally, by bringing a collaborative group of community medical partners, we can have a resource pool that is readily available to educators and students so that these health issues are dealt with in an effective and expedient manner.
- Kathleen Kayner Mitchell, 7th grade science, Freedom Middle School