Dear Mr. President

By John Schlitt, President, School-Based Health Alliance

White HouseCongratulations, Mr. President. Now the work begins, as you remarked just hours into your new job. I take to heart one reflection in your inaugural address that rings true: “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.”

Of course, how we as a nation help realize those goals—and the role government plays in fostering those achievements—­will be the subject of great debate in the coming months. We at the School-Based Health Alliance have a particular bias for government action based on this ideal:

Young people thrive when our public policies and investments create the favorable conditions for limitless opportunities.

Below is a blueprint of sorts for what communities can make possible when they leverage our nation’s considerable prosperity and spirit of innovation to bring opportunity within reach of all young people. Each condition is necessary in its own right, but insufficient. Harnessed as a collective and comprehensive response, however, they can build more equitable pathways to health and academic success for all children—no matter their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, zip code, or ability.

  • High-quality early learning experiences are readily available so children enter school ready to learn.
  • Children live in homes and neighborhoods that are stable and safe.
  • Parents and guardians are supported with child development knowledge and skills training to be nurturing caregivers.
  • Students can make their way to and from school without fear for their safety.
  • Every part of the community—businesses, faith groups, nonprofit agencies, health care systems, child and family support services, law enforcement—is invested in supporting academic success among all children.
  • Families are supported to be actively engaged in their child’s education, and empowered to have an active and equal partnership role in school decision-making.
  • Students are deeply connected to their school and engaged as active advocates and drivers of systemic change in education.
  • Schools are critical partners with parents in building young people’s social and emotional competencies around self-discipline, impulse control, and goal-setting.
  • Communities create accessible and safe spaces for recreation and physical activity in neighborhoods and on every school campus.
  • Parents are supported in their own educational and vocational pursuits to help advance their social and economic mobility.
  • Schools offer high-quality career and college training opportunities that align directly with today’s economy and workforce needs.
  • Affordable, nutritious food and clean water is readily accessible, most especially on school campuses.
  • Schools are free of health and safety hazards in the water students drink, the air they breathe, and the lighting of their classrooms.
  • Young people are guided toward meaningful community service experiences that engage them in responsible and challenging actions and forge strong community ties.
  • Ample expanded learning opportunities are available beyond the school day to accelerate student achievement.
  • Access to patient-centered medical, behavioral, oral, and vision care is convenient, affordable, high quality, culturally competent, and user-friendly – and connected with their schools.
  • Schools incorporate restorative practices that remediate harm and injustice, rather than meting out punitive disciplinary and zero tolerance actions.
  • Schools are committed to promoting a climate of trust, safety, and mutual respect.

And perhaps, most essential:

  • All children and adolescents have relationships with caring adults who engender a sense of worth, value, and agency.

Mr. President, access to opportunity is not equal.

Structural inequities borne out in our nation as poverty and racism have toxic byproducts. We witness them daily in our schools, manifested as stress, trauma, violence, segregation, alienation, and criminalization. And they disproportionately touch young people of color and lower socioeconomic status. The result is persistent and unjust disparities in their health and academic outcomes—and all attributable to their social and economic disadvantage.

Your vision of great schools, safe neighborhoods, and good jobs is only possible once we tackle socially-manufactured inequities head on and acknowledge that the playing field for our nation’s children is far from level.

Let us know how we can serve the White House in that mission. We stand ready and willing to help.

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