The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, August 18, 2021 1:00 am

Let data guide path to best for children

Addie Angelov

As our schools reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they are facing unprecedented pressure. Teachers are burned out, administrators are struggling to be fiscally responsible with unprecedented billions in tax dollars, and students are experiencing the most devastating learning loss in Indiana history.

Like all massive disruptions to global society, however, COVID-19 presents opportunities to prevent the next pandemic while also addressing the inequities that continue to undermine our response.

As our society navigates its recovery from this watershed health event, it's imperative for health care and education professionals to collaborate more frequently and effectively to overcome the challenges we face.

Some Indiana schools have a school nurse or school-based health center on site, but the majority do not. Of the schools that do have some type of health services, many are only able to offer part-time or uncertified services.  COVID-19 has exposed this as a significant misfortune – especially in schools with a higher percentage of at-risk students.

Why are schools increasingly involved in their students' health care? According to a 2015 study in the American Journal of Managed Care, children in Indiana see a pediatrician for an average of 80 minutes a year. For children navigating poverty, that number drops to 20 minutes.  

Schools, on the other hand, have students for almost 1,550 hours a year. In many urban and rural areas, school nurses and school-based health centers are the No. 1 provider of medical care for students navigating poverty. Without school-based health services, students who are sick are more likely to miss instruction and share their symptoms with others.

As a small Indiana nonprofit, the Paramount Health Data Project has conducted research in Indiana schools correlating health outcomes and educational achievement for the past eight years. We are on the front lines of supporting schools with health data as they anticipate the daunting realities of opening.

Our research recently created new pathways for schools to leverage federal funds to support school-based health care through the Indiana Department of Education. The Paramount Project is the first in the country to create this pathway for schools. We have been able to do this by taking a data-driven approach to bridging the gap between education and health care in a way that is tangible and meaningful for the educational decision-making process.

During COVID-19, Indiana schools were literally making life-and-death decisions for their communities with little to no data and expertise. As they bring masses of students back together, there is no need to fly blind.

Schools need strong support systems that are driven by valid and reliable data to ensure that communities are protected. By analyzing health data in schools, we can predict public health crises and support academic achievement. If we are going to get stronger data, we need to implement stronger data systems in schools.

The results of our research are clear, and the time to couple improved student health care and stronger academic results is now.

Let's not wait until the next unprecedented disruption to act on behalf of our kids.

Addie Angelov is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Paramount Health Data Project.

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