“I want to be a paleontologist,” my young male patient said, squinting at a wrinkled clipping from the newspaper of a dinosaur skeleton at the museum as I examined him. An impressive aspiration for a 10-year-old who looked like he needed glasses, but more so because his family was homeless and had none of the resources that could propel a more fortunate child toward his goal. But like the tens of thousands of kids living in poverty that we see on Children’s Health Fund mobile medical clinics across the country, he had a dream and deserved a chance to pursue it.
They all do. That is why it is unacceptable to me that we allow millions of children across America to struggle with health conditions that undermine their potential to succeed in school. Kids are sleeping at their desks after being up all night wheezing with untreated asthma. They are failing tests because they don’t have the glasses they need to read a lesson on the blackboard. They are being held back a grade because they can’t hear the teacher. They are acting out because they are traumatized by extreme stress in their home. These are the health burdens of poverty that weigh on children in classrooms every day.
If education is their ticket to a better future and the key to breaking the cycle of generational poverty, then we need to ensure that these children are healthy and ready to learn. No matter how substantial our social investments in curricula, class-size reduction, teacher training, and other strategies for the transformation of K-12 education, we are not going to be able to close the achievement gap until we deal with the factor of health in the equation of school success.
A Healthy Child Is a Better Student, Irwin Redlener, Education Week, August 5, 2014 (online)