Student Health


Student Health

When students are unwell — whether they have a run-of-the-mill cold, a chronic illness, or a mental health condition like depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — it is more difficult for them to learn. Many more students face chronic physical and mental health challenges than in years past, making this a vital area about which education reporters should learn.

When students are unwell — whether they have a run-of-the-mill cold, a chronic illness, or a mental health condition like depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — it is more difficult for them to learn. Many more students face chronic physical and mental health challenges than in years past, making this a vital area about which education reporters should learn.

Student health encompasses a wide range of issues that include physical and mental health diseases, the consequences of risky sexual behavior, food and housing insecurity, and the effects of personal and community violence. Layered over these issues are the health threats that loom large from the spread of the coronavirus in communities, child care facilities, and schools.

These concerns have an effect from preschool classrooms to university lecture halls and dorms, and, in many cases, disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic students who are more likely than their white counterparts to experience chronic illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases and community violence.

The leading chronic physical illnesses for students are asthma, diabetes and obesity. One out of 12 school children has asthma; childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s to one in five school-aged children. And about 187,000 U.S. children and adolescents have diabetes.

Access to school nurses is essential in helping to manage these and other conditions, and to avoid emergency room visits and lost days of school. Yet many schools don’t have a nurse on campus every day. A lack of funding has created a shortage of school nurses as districts struggle to come up with money to hire them. And when they do, salaries for school nurses are often lower than for nurses working in other settings. Though the National Association of School Nurses has lobbied for dedicated federal funding for nurses in schools, the majority are funded through regular and special education funding. One-quarter of schools nationally do not have a nurse, either full- or part-time.

Other major threats to student health and safety are suicide, which increased 56% between 2007 and 2017 among those ages 10-24, and other forms of violence, which can have long-lasting mental health effects for victims and witnesses. In addition, about 20% of U.S. students reported being bullied, with many encountering it online or via text. Hunger and homelessness remain major problems for college students and among students in the pre-K-12 system.

The following information will help journalists find reliable data and understand more about the health issues facing students at all levels.

Updated March 2021


History and Background: Student Health

Although in the earliest days of public school, attending school itself was considered a way to improve students’ health, the true era of school health started around 1850. At that point, the Sanitary Commission of Massachusetts released a report indicating that school should be used to prevent the spread of disease and promote public health. 


Glossary: Student Health

Adverse Childhood Experience

These are traumatic events that have an adverse impact on a young person and can have long-lasting effects on a child’s mental and physical health. The events can include physical, mental or sexual abuse and the death or incarceration of a parent. These are sometimes abbreviated as ACE or ACEs.

Binge drinking

Binge drinking involves consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. The CDC defines it as four, five or more drinks in two hours or less.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Investigating How Politics Is Affecting Education? Here’s What to Know
Amid an ‘all-time high’ in partisan polarization in the U.S., get background and tips to better cover the politicization of education and how it affects students.

Political influence over what students are learning in the classroom has been at the forefront in recent years, but its impact goes back decades.

Panelists discussed how public school districts and higher education institutions are handling the current political climate during the 2022 National Seminar in Orlando last July. 

Educators are dealing with fatigue related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and political stress, including accusations of teaching critical race theory to school children, researchers said. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Why Education Reporters Should Approach Rising Anti-LGBTQ Sentiments As a Public Health Issue
What do journalists need to know to effectively cover LGBTQ students? Those knowledgeable on the issues provide insight.

Classrooms are bearing the brunt of anti-LGBTQ sentiments surging in the U.S. How are educators and school districts responding? How do journalists go about unpacking the issues, especially when vulnerable groups – children and teenagers – are personally affected? What are the risks to sources in doing this reporting?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering Parent Activism and Engagement? Go Beyond Critical Race Theory
‘Sexy headlines’ about the latest education controversy often grab attention. Learn why reporters shouldn’t limit their coverage. Plus, get research and the history of parent engagement in education.

A new generation of parent activists has arrived, and its members are far more concerned with “ballot boxes, legislative agendas and school district policy priorities than bake sales,” according to a new report from the public policy think tank FutureEd.

Why Reporters Should Cover Middle School

Why Reporters Should Cover Middle School
Learning about the middle school years will help journalists better cover youth learning and brain development.

Although middle school is often treated as just a way station between elementary and high school, there’s much more to the story. In fact, the middle school years are a time of profound change for young people – physically, emotionally, and intellectually. These years are a crucial time for learning and brain development, a reality that is often overlooked or misconstrued. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A Guide to the Guides: What to Know About LGBTQ Style Guides for Journalists

There are numerous LGBTQ style guides for journalists. Most include similar advice for what is and isn’t appropriate to ask gay and trans sources as well as how to steer clear of some oft-repeated misinformation. Offering your pronouns — e.g. she/her/hers, they/them/theirs — at the start of a conversation invites your interviewee to reply with the information they want you to have about their identity.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Getting Out of the Statehouse and Into the Schoolhouse When Covering LGBTQ Students

A consistent criticism from LGBTQ organizations of media coverage of assault on gay and trans rights is that it features too few of the people most affected. Here are three suggestions for education reporters seeking to counter this.

Challenge the narrative: Francisco Vara-Orta is a former Education Week staff writer and EWA board member who is now director of diversity and inclusion for Investigative Reporters and Editors. Reporters need to push back on misleading or false assertions, he says.  

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Better Cover LGBTQ Students in the Pandemic Era of ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ Book Bans and Other Issues
This deep dive catches reporters up on the legislation and issues affecting LGBTQ students. Read this main story and two other related pieces to improve your coverage.

Ranging from “Don’t Say Gay” laws to bans on transgender students’ participation in sports and on gay- and trans-themed books in schools, a record 238 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in U.S. statehouses during the first three months of 2022. Even before the first were signed into law, the new measures had an impact in K-12 schools and on college campuses.

National Seminar graphic

75th EWA National Seminar
Orlando • July 24-26, 2022

Celebrating 75 Years! 

As those in education and journalism work to recover from an extended pandemic, bringing together the community has never been more critical. The Education Writers Association’s 75th annual National Seminar will provide a long-awaited opportunity to gather in person for three days of training, networking, and inspiration. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Lack of Sleep Affecting Adolescent Learning? Coverage Tips for Early School Start Times
Get background, story ideas and advice.

“What’s keeping you up at night?” 

Science journalist and author Lydia Denworth posed that question to a pair of experts on adolescent development during the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar. 

“Sleep!,” speakers Adriana Galván of UCLA and Denise Pope of Stanford University both said at a panel. Adolescents, they agreed, don’t get enough of it.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

With Schools Reopening Full-Time, What Pandemic-Driven Changes Will Last?
Get 7 story ideas to help you cover K-12 and higher education shifts that may have staying power.

Despite the many hardships the pandemic caused, the COVID-19 disruption also sparked – or in some cases accelerated – changes to K-12 and higher education that leaders say should stick.

The speakers pointed to the power of flexibility, the need to focus energy and resources that will serve the “whole student,” and how increased outreach and new communication strategies with students and families could be transformative during a plenary at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar. 


Adolescence on the Mind: Helping Teens Out of the Pandemic

Building social connections outside the family, especially with peers, is key to healthy adolescent development. Yet isolation wrought by the pandemic has curtailed social opportunities.

What works to help adolescents overcome such setbacks? What do surveys of students in high school and middle school show about the impact of the past year?

Two national experts answered these and other questions during a May 5 session at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar.

The participants were:

  • Adriana Galván, University of California Los Angeles
  • Denise Pope, Stanford University
  • Lydia Denworth, Scientific American (Moderator)

Adolescence on the Mind: Helping Teens Out of the Pandemic


Knowing and Addressing Students’ Social and Emotional Needs

The pandemic has interrupted social interactions and hurt student well-being. Understanding students’ social and emotional needs will be crucial in the coming year.

What new methods are emerging for gauging social and emotional needs, competencies and learning? How has the pandemic affected SEL and what does that mean for teaching and learning?

Speakers addressed these and other issues at a May 3 session at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar.

The participants were:

  • Julia Joy Dumas Wilks, Great Oaks Charter School, Wilmington, Delaware
  • Libby Pier, Education Analytics
  • Juany Valdespino-Gaytán, Dallas Independent School District
  • Kevin McCorry, WHYY (Moderator)

Knowing and Addressing Students’ Social and Emotional Needs

EWA 74th National Seminar  graphic

74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Investigative Reporters: What to Do When The Story Changes
Three strategies for piloting journalistic projects through news and change.

It’s hard enough these days for journalists to get the time, resources and editorial support they need to pursue ambitious projects. So when the story changes, or news, of, say, a pandemic breaks, reporters may fear that their story and hard work will be abandoned.  

But reporters who build good rapport with their editors, stay organized, and work out ways to incorporate new developments into their stories can save and even elevate their projects, according to teams of journalists from The Washington Post and APM Reports.

What Education Reporters Need to Know About the Science of COVID-19

What Education Reporters Need to Know About the Science of COVID-19

As scientific understanding of the novel coronavirus continues to evolve, states, school systems, and higher education institutions must weigh what is known — and unknown  — about the risks to guide decision-making. What’s the appropriate threshold to reopen or close schools? What safety precautions are most important on campuses? The list of questions goes on.