Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Aching Reminder

As the TFA Corps members explained the severity of the Achievement Gap during the first week of C2C, I imagined tackling such a grand societal problem. I began to wonder whether everyone in the room actually believed the achievement gap and health disparity gap could be closed. Immediately, I realized the answer: Yes, they truly do. Each person in the room, including myself, be it hopefully or idealistic, believed that the achievement gap could be closed and health disparities eliminated.

It occurred to me how fortunate we are to be surrounded by such dedicated and motivating colleagues because both the achievement gap and stark health disparities remain pervasive. In fact, it is likely neither can be completely addressed without solving the other. Being in Molly’s classroom was an aching reminder of the health disparities already manifesting in students by the first grade.

Many children arrive at school smelling like tobacco or marijuana smoke, meaning students are likely exposed to other drugs without detectable odors to linger on students’ clothing. Hunger and nutrition are also urgent problems, as many students only consistently eat two meals a day on the days the school provides breakfast and lunch. Several of Molly’s students have vision issues, but cannot afford glasses or the problem remains undiagnosed. Finally, the cold and flu present issues for Molly’s classroom. Often, children cannot stay home because their parents have no sick days so, they come to school sick, spread illnesses, and remain sick for an extended period of time because they lack access to doctors.

However, in my first brief visits to her classroom, these health issues remained invisible to me. Extended time with her students allowed Molly to recognize such prevalent, often hidden health issues. Surely, a public health professional visiting may initially miss these issues. Thus, the importance of partnership between TFA and RSPH that C2C fosters became very clear to me

To my fellow C2C participants, what health issues have you noticed in your classroom and how do they inform the discussion on health disparities perpetuating the achievement gap? To my public health peers, how apparent were these health issues in your early visits to your classroom?

- Sara Millimet


  1. Any one of the issues you mention here is a huge public health issue by itself. The one that stood out to me most in your post is the issue of kids needing to come to school sick -- and the subsequent impact that has on everyone else (including teachers)!

  2. Sara, it does seem like a lot of health issues come to light in the school setting that are not noticed at home or by providers that only see the kids for a short period of time. This is what also attracted me to being a part of C2C - wanting to explore ways in which I, as a healthcare provider, can partner with community schools to address the health and behavioral needs of children to help them reach their fullest potential.
    On my first day of class observation, I also noticed that one senior student complained of not being able to see the board. He said he knows he needs glasses, but has not had the time to make the appointment. It is very possible that cost is a barrier for him as well. This situation and your post, reminded me of a lecture we had in nursing school by Dr. Veda Johnson, a pediatrician at Emory who helped start a school-based health center in Atlanta. Her goal is to serve the community by better integrating health services into the school system. I think the work they are doing is very innovative, effective and inspiring! I imagine the clinic not only improves access, but also reduces costs. It is interesting to think how this model may be replicated and adapted to other communities in the future.

  3. Dr. Johnson is fabulous -- she's coming to our class on the last night as well. : )