Getting SMART About Health and Academics

Getting SMART About Health and Academics

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I learned about the SMART model—an in-school health provider that focuses on academic outcomes—this spring. In this context, “health” refers to the three critical ways that students experience health that can affect their school attendance: physical, mental, and social.

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The SMART model is getting results. Four years ago a SMART center replaced a failing school-based clinic at Sullivan High School in Chicago. The following has happened since then:

  • The percentage of students receiving healthcare has soared to 85%–90%, compared with 15%–20% in standard healthcare models
  • More than 90% of students attend school regularly
  • The number of days absent dropped from 36 to 18 days a year
  • Disciplinary referrals plummeted

Sullivan’s principal credits SMART, saying the health center is “the key differentiator in helping to turn around a failing school….”

The following is an excerpt of a blog entry written about the SMART model by José Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.

The entry is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign of America’s Promise Alliance, which calls on the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.

My uncle was a pipe-fitter in Chicago, and he used to tell me as a kid to “measure twice to cut once.” He was making sure I knew the importance of preparation and estimation in helping me take the best action for a particular situation. His words have taken on even greater meaning in working with disenfranchised youth to ensure that they are healthy enough to succeed academically, socially, and later in the workforce. But first, as my sage tio used to tell me, it starts with the assessment.

As an example, an honors student at Sullivan High School in the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago recently shared how the SMART clinic staff at her school recognized that she was dealing with anxiety and fighting bouts of depression, thanks to a health survey she took at the beginning of the school year:

“Everyone sees me as perfect. I’m involved in extra-curricular activities. I’m a leader. My grades were always great but were starting to slip. Before I was asked to come to the clinic for my health screening, no one thought I had a care in the world. My parents, friends, and teachers … thought I missed school because I was sick, not because I couldn’t force myself to get out of bed that day or was overwhelmed with a fear that I wasn’t good enough. Now, I have a support system. Because of the SMART clinic, I participate in group [therapy], share with my social worker, and open up more with those closest to me. I even learned to meditate to help reduce my anxiety before a big test or presentation. My grades have bounced back, and I’m excited about my future.”

According to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Relationship Between School Attendance and Health, chronic absenteeism puts more than 6.5 million schoolchildren at risk of falling behind academically, dropping out of school, and serious long-term health, employment, and financial consequences. The study looked into the reasons behind chronic absenteeism and found three main areas: physical, mental, and social health. Not coincidentally, these are the focus of SMART model interventions.

Read more at America’s Promise Alliance.