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PSRP/School Support Staff: How do students' physical or mental health issues (e.g., dental, eating disorders, vision, asthma) affect their academic performance?

Comments: 100

When students have physical or mental health issues, they tend to not trust or have respect for their teachers or any other authoritative figures. Teachers feel the brunt of their disrespect, their consistent breaking of rules, because teachers spend the most time with them in trying to teach the content areas. I feel that once students gain trust and respect for the teacher, they want badly to learn, but the problems that exist at home, school or elsewhere are still embedded in their minds, hearts and souls. Until the problems are addressed by the appropriate professionals, the student will not be a whole person. Our options?

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Williams-Quary Nedra
Houston Federation of Teachers
Houston, TX

As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety since childhood, I know just how much mental health affects academic performance. In spite of all of the medical research and medications available to treat mental health disorders, these still remain very misunderstood by those who do not personally suffer the effects. This lack of understanding can have detrimental effects on the kids who do suffer from mental illness. There needs to be more of an effort to bring awareness to all school personnel in the area of mental health so we can create an environment of compassion and understanding.

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Angela Mitchell
OSEA
Medford, OR

I think the question shouldn't be how those issues affect our students but more how can we eliminate or minimize those variables that DO affect them so they we can concentrate on teaching more academics and less behavioral skills. A student who does not have enough food at home, whose family has health issues but no medical insurance, who can't see what is being written on the board, who doesn't feel healthy, etc., will not academically perform at an acceptable level unless at least part of those issues are taken care of.

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Luis Diaz
Beaverton, OR

Physical and mental health disorders can negatively affect academic performance. Dental disease is the #1 problem for students missing school. If a child is not in their seat, they can not learn. When in pain, the student can not concentrate, attend to class work. Assignments are interrupted. I have cared for students with eating disorders who have been too ill at school to attend to class instruction. They may be in physical pain, may become dizzy, ill, and ask to go home. They may be hospitalized for treatment. Illness again interrupts their academic progress. A healthy child, in their classroom regularly, learns best.

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Pat Christie
8004 CFT Member at Large
Santa Cruz, CA

Students' health conditions can profoundly affect school attendance, achievement and participation. A child with a toothache can't concentrate and one having an asthma attack can't breathe. One student with severe anorexia became too weak to attend school daily and was hospitalized with a heart condition caused by anorexia. Only with great support from her family, medical team and school team was she able to graduate. Mental illnesses (depression, bipolar, generalized anxiety, etc.) are common and may prevent even very bright students from being successful. Their symptoms can be overwhelming at times even with good medical treatment.

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Helen Ramirez-Odell
Chicago Teachers Union
Chicago, IL

Anything that distracts a student from their first task of attentativeness, focus, response is a problem. A student who hurts can't study, a student who worries can't study, a student who can't breath can't study. The degree to which a kid is affected by the distraction depends on the kid and their age. Clearly this includes health issues of any kind.

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Kathryn Cunningham
Oak Lawn, IL

Student’s mental and physical/dental health issues are of paramount importance in affecting academic performance. I feel that there should be basic in-school health screening at the beginning of the school year for each student. Then there should be referrals or visiting volunteer dentists and doctors that can follow up exam the students who are designated in need. Parents should be contacted and teachers. A list of follow-up resources should be made available to all students in need and a way of tracking follow-up. The USA needs universal health care and coverage.

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bonnie steinkraus
NYSUT
syracuse, NY

It is important to consider the whole child when trying to increase academic performance. If a child doesn't feel well, is emotionally upset, can't see or hear properly, has not eaten breakfast, etc., the child is not learning at his/her full potential. Students these days have so much going on physically, emotionally, and mentally that they may be very distracted in school and unable to really learn and/or retain what is being taught on any given day. We need to attend to the whole child and make sure all childrens' needs are met so they can learn.

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anne flaherty
604
joliet, IL

Despite NCLB's desire to discount these issues, they do play an enormous part in a student's ability to learn. For example, I had a student last year whose parents refused to purchase her a new pair of eye glasses because she broke the pair they bought her. Under the health insurance policy the parents had, they could only obtain one pair per year. The child struggled all year long being unable to read anything unless it was held near her face. The Social Worker's hands were tied since the parents had insurance. In May, well after testing, the student got her eye glasses and her grades increased significantly.

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Susan Pignato
BTU 1975
Coral Springs, FL

More children are coming to school really hungry. They need to eat something before and during school hours because the hunger and poor nutrition really affect their attention and ability to perform in the classroom. Once they have some food and feel comfortable, knowing they will receive some other food at lunchtime, they pay attention better and are willing to work and listen. Chronic illnesses such as asthma play a big part in student attendance. These issues at times must be addressed with the family to encourage better attendance. Regular attendance helps performance and self esteem in students.

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Elaine Talaga
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Philadelphia, PA

In order for students to function at their full potential, they must have their basic needs met. This includes having all their medical needs satified before they begin a new school year. This enables them to remain focused and not be distracted by some discomfort or pain. They must have a good nights rest and a healthy breakfast to be ready to begin each new day. Once these needs are met, the students will function to the best of their potential given a teacher knows and understands their indivdual needs. A student that's ready to learn and a teacher that is ready to set short an long term goals for that student is a wonderful combination

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Marta Molina-Perez
New York, NY

Almost every student in my special ed. program has dealt with the violent death of a peer. Last year, when I asked a student why she was looking up news coverage on a shooting death from 2004 she responded, "because she was my best friend and they were shooting at my brother." This January the 16 year old brother of one of my students was murdered. This summer one of my in-coming students died in the backseat of a car while joyriding with another minor. While I could go on, I ask the simple question, who could sit in class and believe that school matters when these are the typical experiences of my kids? Their depression is real.

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Jim Barnhill
MFT 59
Minneapolis, MN

How do students' physical or mental health issues (e.g., dental, eating disorders, vision, asthma) affect their academic performance? Let me count the ways...ability to focus, stay on task, complete assignments, succeed on high stake tests, etc... Truancy may be the outcome of any or all of the above. Self-esteem and confidence may suffer which in turn can and do affect academic success. In addition, physical and mental health issues affect student socialization skills, which in turn affect self image and ultimately academic performance. The list goes on and on. Our students need support in order to achieve academic success.

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Nancy Swanberg
EMFED
Eagle Bend, MN

Vision and dental issues need first attention. Asthma and eating disorders come next. Asthma is easier to adress than eating disorders. Good luck with the eating disorder problems. Reduce class size and give teachers a chance to make a difference. Reduce class size and make American education the best that the world has to offer. Reduce class size and you bring us back to our roots: one on one, enabling each other. In a small class a teacher might help a student with an eating problem. Forumlas aside, nothing works better than human contact.

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James Palmer
Chicago, IL

I am glad to see our union ask this important question for we need to call attention to the conditions that are damaging our children's lives. The widespread demonization of teachers by corporate media has successfully diverted the public's attention away from the economic and social factors that affect our children's futures. The single predictor of a child's academic success is poverty. Children whose families are jobless, homeless, and hopeless struggle to survive; without help they cannot thrive. We need to raise this issue in the media.

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Elizabeth Shanklin
United Federation of Teachers
Bronx, NY

Two things stand out: my students don't get enough sleep, and so are often tired when they come to class, and very many have undiagnosed ADD or a related condition and thus have trouble focusing in class. Many of the un-officially-diagnosed kids resist the idea of medication, yet their classroom behavior is often unacceptably disruptive. I think this is a brand-new-ish phenomenon that needs to be addressed at the institutional level much more seriously and aggressively than heretofore.

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William Batkay
1904, AFT
Upper Montclair, NJ

As a Registered Nurse working in public schools for a large district in the NW I see this everyday. Learning takes concentration, attention, energy and a positive outlook on one's future. When students are distracted for whatever reasons, they cannot absorb the information that is put before them. Without physical health, mental health suffers. Without mental health, physical health suffers. "We know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong, and that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies." -John F. Kennedy

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Jeanne Fratto
Porrtland, OR

It is obvious that anyone who is suffering can not focus. Adults have difficulty when they are sick so why wouldn't we expect that kids would as well? In addition, they may get behind if absent frequently. I can try as hard as I can to catch them up, but there is no way they get the same level of instruction. The reasons listed are only examples of problems children have. We just have to work harder when kids have REAL situations that impact learning capacity.

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pamela norris
Detroit Federation of Teachers
w bloomfield, MI

We hear so much about child abuse. What about child neglect? Providing a jacket in the winter. Taking the child/children to the Dr. when they need medical care or to the dentist. Not caring or providing for a child's basic needs are neglect. A child does not ask to be born but as parents/grandparents we must take care of our children whether it is medical or learning in school. A child's basic needs must be met before the process of learning can be acheived.

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shirley roberts
lyons, GA

Teaching in an urban school system, I've witnessed firsthand some of the trials and tribulations that students these days face. From growing up in a single family home, to being passed from foster home to foster home, to even being a victim of sexual, physical and mental abuse, students endure these things and my heart goes out to them. My charge as a special education teacher is not only to teach my students but also try to make their heartache just a little easier to bear. I want my students to try their best on a daily basis, but if they don't make 100% on every test, or even 80%, if I can make them happy for the time they spend in my class, I go home a happy teacher.

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Rikesha Foster
Birmingham AFT
Birmingham, AL

Students come to the Merlin Alternative Center very hungry. Once they have eaten breakfast and talked with their friends while eating, their temperament and attitude change. I see many kids go off to their classrooms ready for a good day at school and less worried about their home life once they have food in their tummys.

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Nellie wi
OSEA
merlin, OR

If a child has a mental condition and is not taking his/her meds on the prescribed time and dosage, it could lead to the child acting up in the classroom, which in turn will disrupt the studies taking place at that given time. So for parents with children who have mental conditions, please be vigilant and ensure that your child/ren are taking their meds on time.

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Gil Duenas
Guam Federation of Teachers
Mangilao, GU

All aspects of their lives, including being hungry, affect their ability to learn. How can you learn if you are suffering from a toothache, an earache, a grumbling stomach, or if you cannot comprehend or process what someone is saying? Everything affects the child's ability to learn.

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Barbara Robertson
Anchorage, AK

There is simply no way for teachers to work in any environment that is not safe. First, there is falling plaster, crumbling walls, leaks, puddles, loose or missing tiles, and sanitation concerns. The ceilings may leak, flake, and peel. A layer of white debris is all over the floor and shelves in classrooms, daily. Thus, teachers feel that their respiratory system is irritated by these conditions as they clean up a mess each day because the budget cuts have impacted minor maintenance. Finally, as we add it all up, we are looking at hazards in our workplace and very sick schools. Surely, our students deserve something better.

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Phyllis Murray
scarsdale, NY

I am a second grade teacher, and I notice on a daily basis that my students have health problems. My students can not focus on their academics if they are too tired, hungry or have dental problems. I communicate with the parents and for whatever reason their response is not accepetable to me. I provide food at times, and we have Cleveland State dental students to provide free dental work. I am thankful for that but in reality I feel sorry for my students. This goes without saying that our students have health problems that need consistent attention parents are not able to take care of their children.

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Gina Foster
ctu279
Cleveland, OH

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