May 8, 2014 – This week represents a time that we recognize two important groups of people in the lives of children, youth and their families – it is National Nurses Week and Teacher Appreciation Week. The connection of these two weeks struck me as perfect, since good outcomes for either are completely interdependent. In addition, we are bemoaning the fact that in Michigan so many of our high schoolers aren’t passing national reading and math tests, a reason to really talk about what works to improve educational outcomes.
So, there is the obvious that we won’t have a skilled nursing workforce if we don’t successfully educate our young people, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The research is also clear on what the most challenged kids need to succeed in school and how we can reduce the achievement gap. We need to provide more and multiple flexible learning options that can accommodate life challenges; build consistent supportive relationships between adults and students inside and outside the classroom; utilize expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day for remediation, and to help young people better see their own strengths in STEM and other areas; and connect schools with services that are typically outside of the classroom to ensure that students are healthy, well-nourished, and can focus on their education.
State Legislators have the opportunity right now in the current budget conversation to better support two specific evidence-based practices that take advantage of the combination of talent that exists within school staff, who we appreciate, and within those who integrate other services for kids and their families resulting in better educational and life outcomes.
- Opportunities for learning outside the school day. The Michigan House of Representatives included $3 million in the Department of Human Services budget to reinstate some support for quality afterschool and summer learning programs. This is nowhere near the $16 million that the state used to invest in these programs and the children and youth they serve, but it is a move in the right direction. The Senate didn’t include this resource.
- Opportunities to expand access to mental and behavioral health services for children and youth through school-based and school-linked health centers. While both the House and Senate maintained consistent support for these centers in their budgets, the House included over $37 million to support the recommendations of the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission 2013 report, which specifically outlined the importance of expanding mental health services in school-based and school-linked health centers. The Senate didn’t include any additional funding for these services.
As we honor professions and professionals working hard to make sure that our children, youth and families succeed, let’s also make sure that we are investing in the very initiatives that assist them in that work. Get in touch with your elected officials today and ask them to talk with their colleagues about supporting what we know can make a real difference for our state.