On April 18, 2013, the three center directors (see below) of ENHP's Institute for Translational Research conducted a focus group research session with administrators, teachers and staff from the seven neighborhood schools in the Hartford Public Schools (HPS) system. The purpose of the focus group was to discuss the health issues that these educators believe affect student learning at their schools and identify the strategies that each school is using to address these health issues. HPS administrators and Achieve Hartford! staff were also present to facilitate the discussion. The conversation was animated and enthusiastic. The educators present spoke thoughtfully and passionately about substantial problems—poverty, hunger, domestic violence, mental health issues, language barriers, transient living situations—that impact student learning. However, at each neighborhood school, it became obvious that faculty and staff are empowered to address these health issues with innovative resources. For example, social support groups for parents, health and wellness seminars, food banks, community gardens and extensive after-school programming are among the many strategies that community schools in Hartford use to meet the needs of students and families. It was empowering and humbling to hear the energy and time educators dedicate to making their school a hub that offers far more than just an education.
At the end of the focus group session, educators were asked what research questions they would like to see answered with respect to the impact of health and wellness on learning. These questions will subsequently be used to shape research proposals collaboratively conducted between University of Hartford, HPS, and Achieve Hartford!. The ultimate goal is to better understand the multiple factors that impact academic achievement at neighborhood schools in Hartford and also better measure the effectiveness at current strategies being used to address these factors.
Beth Parker, Director, Center for Health, Education and Well-being
Suzi D'Annolfo, Center for Learning and Professional Education
Diana LaRocco, Center for Public Health and Education Policy
Institute for Translational Research