Student Health

Overview

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

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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. 

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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

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. 

Multimedia

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

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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
Seminar

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
Webinar

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.