‘Toxic stress’ in the classroom: How a public health approach could help

Children living in poverty often are exposed to high levels of constant stress that can be debilitating, not only in terms of their physical health but also their ability to learn. So what are schools to do?

Below, two writers argue — in their own voices, first, and then together with one voice — that schools and health providers must join forces to make sure children are getting the help they need. Sheila Ohlsson Walker, who studies the intersection between stress and educational outcomes, is an assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. She also is a board member with Turnaround for Children, a nonprofit that works to help high-poverty schools better serve their students, including by linking them with community mental health providers. Melissa Steel King is an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners in Washington, D.C., who has years of experience in research and evaluation of educational programs. She began her career in the late 1990s as a teacher in New York City. Her husband, John King Jr., is U.S. Education Secretary. (Note: Bellwether’s past clients include two organizations mentioned in this piece: KIPP charter schools and Startup:Education, a grantmaking organization founded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.)

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