Hershey School Draws On Student Data To Encourage Health Research

Mar 21, 2016

The Milton Hershey School released a white paper this month detailing the physical, mental and emotional roadblocks its low-income students face as barriers to education. Researchers say more consistent data sharing could encourage broader interest and openness in addressing student health concerns.
Credit Mark Goebel / Flickr

A Hershey boarding school for low-income students is calling for greater transparency and dialog from public and private schools on how much they spend on student health.

The new position paper from the Milton Hershey School recommends greater collaboration between schools and health institutions like hospitals and nonprofits, as well as more research on the special physical and mental health needs of children living in poverty.

According to the paper, many MHS students experienced one or more kinds of stressors related to life under the poverty line, including frequent residential changes, drug and alcohol use in the home, incarceration of family members, homelessness and domestic violence.

School psychologist Beth Shaw said those home stressors can have a negative impact on student achievement. She pointed to domestic violence in particular.

“The impact that has on a developing brain – to see that level of violence in one’s home really – can undermine one’s sense of safety, and it can also certainly alter your cognitive schema in terms of how you think of handling difficult, challenging situations,” Shaw said.

School spokeswoman Lisa Scullin said several ninth-grade students coming into Milton Hershey School had never had a dental exam.

“How can you get an ‘A’ when you’ve got cavities?" she said. "How can you do well on a test when you’re very hungry, or you haven’t had a warm place to sleep?”

The Milton Hershey School, whose 2,000 students live on campus, shared some statistics of the stress-inducing family issues its most recent class of low-income children faced:

  • Nearly one in five had experienced homelessness,
  • Almost one in three had a family member who'd been incarcerated,
  • Forty-three percent had changed schools three or more times,
  • Half experienced drug or alcohol issues within their families,
  • More than one-third experienced violence either in their families or in their neighborhoods,
  • More than 2 in 5 said family members had a history of mental health issues,
  • One-quarter had received prior treatment for psychological issues.

More than 70 percent of a select group of mostly suburban private schools studied by the company Magnus Health spent less than $10,000 in non-salary health services in the 2013-14 school year, according to the paper. Only about 5 percent of schools spent more than $100,000 in non-salary health services.

Healthcare coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.