Helping Tennessee Students By Exploring The Connections Between Health And Learning

Four hundred education and health professionals from across Tennessee explored ways to advance student health and academic achievement at the Better Health, Better Learning summit in Nashville.

The August 28 convening, sponsored by SCORE and NashvilleHealth and led by the founder of both organizations, Senator Bill Frist, MD, was the first of its kind in the country. Attendees heard national and state experts talk about the connection between student health and learning and ways to work together to improve both. Former second lady Dr. Jill Biden, a career educator, delivered the keynote address.

Tennessee’s success in making large academic gains in a relatively short period of time indicates the state is capable of taking on big challenges. Since 2011, Tennessee students have made academic gains that outpace the national averages in math, science and eighth-grade reading according to the Nation’s Report Card.

Still, our state has some large gaps in how students perform. Just 17 percent of students in the state are college-ready in all four ACT subject areas. And Tennessee students trail their peers nationally across a wide variety of health outcomes and behaviors. We have higher rates of obesity, youth smoking, teen pregnancy, asthma, and mental health conditions compared to the U.S. average.

“If we want to continue to excel academically and build strong, healthy brains, we need to think outside the box and consider student health as a central factor driving these outcomes,” Senator Frist said at the summit.

During a TED talk that focused on one student named Brianna, Senator Frist described two possible outcomes for her health, her education, her well-being, and her long-term success depending where Brianna lives and attends school. “It shouldn’t matter what school district you live in or what socio-economic background you come from – we should make health and healthy choices an integral part of our academic culture,” he said.

Nationally recognized leaders in health and education participated in the summit, including Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Dr. Lillian M. Lowery, vice president for pre K-12 policy, research, and practice at The Education Trust; US Congressman Diane Black; Dr. JD Hickey, CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee; and Commissioner Candice McQueen of the Tennessee Department of Education.

In panel discussions and breakouts, the conversation focused on collaboration, policy implementation, and active intervention to accelerate what is already happening in our schools and address the challenges that are present to create a genuine culture of health in our schools.

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Teresa Wasson

Teresa Wasson, Director of Communications at SCORE, manages all SCORE communications, including contacts with the news media, social media, and the organization’s online properties. Before joining SCORE, Teresa worked for The Associated Press as news editor for Tennessee and Kentucky. She was previously editor of the Pensacola News Journal, deputy managing editor of The Tennessean and a journalist at The Knoxville Journal and The Jackson Sun. A Missouri native, Teresa is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

The SCORE Sheet is the online conversation on public education reform in Tennessee and is hosted by SCORE. The blog mirrors SCORE’s collaborative nature and features contributors from Tennessee and across the country including students, parents, teachers, policymakers, community groups, and members of SCORE’s team. Regardless of perspective, contributors share a common goal: that every child graduates from high school prepared for college or the workforce.

Posts on The SCORE Sheet are the opinions of the individual contributors and are not necessarily reflective of the opinions and positions of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).