‘Whole Child’ Making Dramatic Improvements for Tangipahoa Students

Students at Amite Elementary School are benefitting from a program that examines each child, identifying health gaps that often affect them in the classroom.  The program, an expansion of the New Orleans-based Health and Education Alliance of Louisiana (HEAL) and funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, is supporting schools by providing clinical expertise for students in need.

Much of HEAL’s work involves providing health screenings, such as vision screenings to determine if students are in need of glasses.  To date, the program has completed screenings for 103 first-graders at Amite Elementary School . After intervention, the number of students reading at benchmark level has increased by five times.

“In many cases, the students we work with might present as disruptive or disengaged.  But in reality, they’re exhibiting the results of comprehension deficits, health issues, or even trauma history,” Bellone said.  Students who keep their head down may actually be struggling to read their papers, and students whose attention wanders may have hearing issues or be struggling with undiagnosed ADHD.

HEAL works with clinically trained school nurses, psychologists, and other staff who partner with teachers and principals to navigate the needs of their students.  The program, which began in New Orleans, has touched 50 other schools. More than 38,000 students have benefited from HEAL’s efforts to identify and remove physical, mental, or social health barriers.

According to Blue Cross Foundation President Michael Tipton, the HEAL project represents an important part of the foundation’s efforts to improve the wellness and wellbeing of Louisiana’s children.

“In schools where HEAL has been successful, GPAs rose by 25% school-wide, with as much as 60% improvement in the highest risk kids” he said.  “We know that the social determinants of health – or what HEAL calls the ‘Whole Child Model’—are an influencing set of factors in whether students succeed, particularly early in life.”

HEAL and the Blue Cross Foundation are confident that the students of Amite Middlle school will show similar results.  “It’s intensive, complicated work. But if we invest in these kids today, it will have a major impact on their future,” Bellone said.