The Region 15 Comprehensive Center, part of the federally-funded Comprehensive Center Network, is facilitating ongoing Community of Practice meetings that focus on rural education issues. State education agency staff, district and school leadership, and education associations from Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah have been meeting to share experiences from their states and ideas for meeting schooling challenges.
WestEd’s Senior Professional Learning Specialist Barbara Jones has been developing newsletters to share highlights and insights from these meetings. The following text is from Jones’ September 18, 2020 newsletter, following a conversation on the topic of reopening schools.
Health and Wellness in Rural Schools
In mid-September, we held our monthly CoP meeting focused on health and wellness in our rural schools. Before we jumped into the topic, folks shared their responses to the question, If 2020 was a song, what would its title be? Here are their fabulous suggestions.
Don’t Stand So Close to Me
We Didn’t Start the Fire
Hit Me with your Best Shot
It’s the End of the World as We Know it
Time After Time
Tell Me Why
Not surprisingly, some of these suggestions got a good laugh. It was wonderful to start off connecting in this way before turning to the work at hand. Next we heard a great presentation by Laura Buckner, Program Associate at the Regional Education Laboratory (REL West) at WestEd.
Laura’s presentation described the California Central Valley Rural Education and Health Alliance Research Partnership and it’s five-year project that started in 2017. It focuses on knitting together best practices in health, mental health, and education to support several whole child initiatives in California. Below is some of what we learned in this presentation.
The Central Valley is home to large populations of historically underserved students and families. Students as a whole struggle with low academic achievement and low graduation rates. There are high health needs associated with environmental and agricultural pollution, though due to challenges related to living in small, remote communities, people in the area have limited access to healthcare.
These communities are also tight knit and have a high desire to help one another. This creates a great opportunity to build cross-sector collaborations. The School-based Health Alliance and the Central Valley Coalition of school districts, who partnered with REL West in the project, wanted to learn what it takes to improve outcomes for students in both educational and health contexts. REL West provided training and research with a focus on evidence-based cross-sector strategies to support students.
One of the key strands of work includes reducing chronic absenteeism in the Parlier and Tulare City school districts, both of which are part of the Central Valley Coalition. This relates to the districts’ goals of addressing student health, mental health, and well-being given that students are not able to come to school engaged and ready to learn if these primary needs are not also supported. The project work centers on supporting collaboration and alignment between the schools and school-based health centers. Parlier has a health center co-located with one of its elementary schools and Tulare City has a mobile health unit that travels to multiple school sites every week.
As part of a general, tier-one approach, Parlier developed a superhero-themed campaign to spread the message that superheroes come to school everyday on time and prepared. Community members, health centers, and local businesses rallied around the campaign to promote the message. This included putting posters around town, billboard messaging, and high school mentors dressing up as superheroes to inspire elementary school students to have good attendance.
In Tulare City, they chose to focus their efforts on increasing attendance and handwashing in TK and kindergarten. They knew that the two main reasons children were missing school were because of a lack of understanding about the importance of attendance for young children and the contraction of common illnesses which can be reduced through handwashing. Teachers and the school-based health center worked together to create lessons for kids on hand washing and also reached out to parents to explain the importance of attendance and handwashing.
In addition to these efforts, part of the tier two and tier three interventions to increase student attendance in these districts include home visits, referrals to the school-based health centers, and providing for basic needs. Over time, districts have been able to improve their attendance rates, particularly with high risk student sub-groups such as those experiencing homelessness or foster care.
In another strand of work, REL West conducted a research study on telemedicine in a small Central Valley school district. The district hoped that through providing school-based telemedicine, they could reduce health-related absenteeism. They found that when students use telemedicine during a school day, on anything from headaches and stomach aches to injuries and asthma, they are able to go back to class instead of going home. Students received on average three additional hours of instruction that they otherwise would not have had.
For the last strand of work to support students’ health and wellbeing, REL West organized a five year series of annual convenings to address trauma and resilience. This has been well received due to its focus on the specific needs of people in the Central Valley. One current theme was the power of adult and youth relationships.
Next Melissa Sadorf and Lisa Young reflected on the presentation and the parallel work being done in Arizona and Utah, specifically in relation to telehealth and collaborative partnerships organized by the Navajo nation to support student health and wellness in their community. Participants then talked about what resonated with them from the presentation and what similar work is being done in their states. The California group, for example, was very interested in thinking through how to replicate and expand the principles and practices from the Central Valley project for the purpose of applying them to other nearby, rural districts in California.
Before ending the meeting, participants spent time thinking about their next steps with the CoP and what they’d like to gain by attending the monthly meetings. Participants shared that they are interested in focusing on:
Teacher Recruitment & Retention
Climate & Culture
To address culture, the next meeting will address indigenous education in Nevada, specifically a long-term project led by our CoP member, Fredina Drye-Romero, to provide resources for educators on Native American culture and experience in Nevada.
These resources are intended to help teachers provide accurate representations of Native peoples, with the intention to enhance relationships between local communities. This addresses a critical need to heal long-standing misunderstandings where they might occur between rural Native communities and nearby local townships.
The work also supports Native student identities, which are enhanced by informed portrayals of their communities and histories in their schools. Fredina will also share about next steps in this project and her thoughts on curriculum integration and creating shared ownership.
To get a head start in thinking about indigenous education, here are a few resources to begin with
- Native Knowledge 360˚ Framework for Essential Understandings about American Indians https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/pdf/NMAI-Essential-Understandings.pdf
- Native Nations and American Schools: The history pf Natives in the American Education – https://cdn.ymaws.com/niea.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/files/native_nations_and_american_.pdf