Teachers and School-Related Professionals who work everyday with children will not be surprised at the findings in a survey sent out by the American Federation of Teachers to union members last fall. The top three concerns: students' mental health, health care access and food security, as detailed in the new AFT report "Helping Children Thrive."
Members of the Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals, Valhalla Teachers Association and United Federation of Teachers contributed their perspectives and experience for the report, which was based on a survey of respondents representing 116 AFT locals from 20 states.
Educators ranked top health priorities in this order: mental health, access to care, food security, sleeping and rest, disability, asthma and chronic conditions other than asthma, illness, violence, dental and oral health, physical activity, drugs, environmental health, injury and sexual health.
Mental health issues, such as anxiety, oppositional defiance, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and grief, affect more children than physical health issues. However, "schools are poorly staffed to address these needs," the report found.
For every student who receives special education services for severe emotional disturbance, AFT says up to 10 more students need the services but do not receive them. "Without adequate care coordination, kids with mental health disorders are more likely to drop out of school, use and abuse illicit substances, and engage in risky and self-injurious behaviors," the report said.
The relationship between health and learning prompted AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson to call for a new program focused on children's health, safety and well-being.
The survey has helped determine AFT's priorities for better health care staffing in schools — nurses, counselors and social workers — and improved training. The report outlines AFT partnerships with organizations to improve food, nutrition and health programs in schools.
"This lays out an important agenda that is in sync with NYSUT's commitment to advocating for the services and support children need to be ready to learn," said Paul Pecorale, NYSUT vice president who oversees social justice initiatives.
To spread the word in your school about the report, go to AFT's Share My Lesson site, www.sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/aft-helping-children-thrive-survey-report-50039939/.
To download the report, visit www.aft.org.