by Brandon Edmond, NACHC Public Policy Intern
The room was buzzing with excitement, the lights dimmed, and then the room went black. A hush fell over the crowd; you could feel the nervous energy running rampant through the room…all of a sudden pyrotechnic explosions and the crowd went wild.
Ok, maybe the hearing didn’t exactly start like a KISS concert, but for someone enamored with the political process and attending his first Senate hearing it was quite an experience. Just my second day on the job – and I had already visited an FQHC look-a-like, and now was attending a Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Full Committee Hearing entitled “Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization: Supporting Student Health, Physical Education, and Well-Being.” One of our own health center member CEO’s, Dr. Barbara Levin of Chota Community Health Services in Madisonville, TN testified on the role of health centers in schools.
The main theme of the hearing was one of using innovative approaches to promote students’ well-being. Dr. Levin testified regarding Chota’s 10-year old school-based health center program in a rural Appalachian community in East Tennessee. Dr. Levin’s FQHC provides primary care and mental health programs in schools, as well as transportation to dental services. Her testimony demonstrated that a school based health center working in partnership with the community could provide the resources needed to successfully care for an underserved population. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) appeared to be impressed by the role of health centers in schools and questioned Dr. Levin on various topics related to the role of health in education. Dr. Levin provided informative perspectives on rural education and the need for an all-encompassing approach to a child’s education, which includes ensuring that the children are physically and mentally able to succeed in the classroom. Dr. Levin mentioned that exercise is necessary in schools, but it is often up to the school-based health centers, which are sometimes the students’ only access point to primary care services, to determine whether or not those children are ready to participate in physical education and exercise activities.
Other witnesses presenting oral testimony included: Dr. Russell Pate, a professor in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina; Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics; Dr. Antronette Yancey, a professor in the Department of Health Services at the UCLA School of Public Health; and Beth Kirkpatrick, Co-Director of the Grundy Center PE4life Academy.
The five witnesses presented testimony from varying perspectives, but all agreed that improved health and physical activity led to better educational attainment by students, and that for this reason it is important that the reauthorization of ESEA includes language that focuses on the health and well-being of a child. Dr. Levin did health centers nationwide proud by detailing the pivotal role that health centers can play in improving the health of our children in schools.
As for this intern, while my starry eyed gaze waned as I grew accustomed to being in a room with senators and political pundits, I left the hearing just as enamored with the political process as when I entered. Overall, I’d have to say my second day on the job wasn’t too shabby.