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Student Outcomes: What's Health Got to Do With It?
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What We Learned from In-Depth Interviews
Between August and November of 2011 we conducted interviews with 34 people who have been involved with school health research. The purpose of the interviews was to gather information about successful school health research from a broad base of perspectives so that we can build an effective and sustainable infrastructure for health research in Seattle Schools. We talked with 14 university researchers, 7 school staff members, 10 community-based health professionals and 3 parents. The following sections highlight what we learned:
What made previous research projects successful?
There was considerable agreement among all the stakeholder groups about the qualities that contributed most to making projects successful:
- Establishing strong relationships between researchers, principals, district leaders, and school personnel who shared common goals
- Finding an advocate in the schools to help lead the project
- Investing time to understand the realities and needs of schools
- Having district and university leaders promote the project
- The dedication of school staff to student well-being
- Resources, especially foundation and grant funds, to carry out the work
What are the challenges to sharing and using research findings?
Researchers and school staff would like to see a more consistent process for sharing research results with district leaders, school staff, and parents.
- Researchers recognize the need to provide schools with results that are concise and easy to understand.
- Schools want a concise one-page summary: “Here’s what we know, here are the cautions you need to be aware of, and here is how we figured it out.”
- Currently, there is no systematic way of sharing findings and helping people understand what they mean.
- Access to data and sharing data among those who “need to know” is difficult.
- Schools need help in understanding how to use the results to improve student outcomes.
What are the biggest issues that need to be addressed?
Researchers and school staff agree that health research in schools is difficult. District and school policies are not consistent. Turnover in leadership makes it hard to sustain the focus on major health initiatives.
- Researchers find that the district application and approval process is slow and that it lacks transparency.
- Researchers want data sharing agreements to make it easier to get the data they need.
- Schools want more input into planning and carrying out research in schools.
- Schools want more communication throughout the study.
Despite these challenges, stakeholders are excited about the promise that this partnership brings for improving health through research.
What is the vision for a collaborative research partnership?
All stakeholder groups would like to see a partnership where there is stronger collaboration between Seattle Schools, University of Washington researchers, and communities. They want a partnership that:
- Shares governance and increases dialogue among all the stakeholders in establishing research goals
- Serves the highest priority needs
- Builds strong relationships among all stakeholders
- Raises awareness about the importance of health in improving academic achievement
- Brings in money to support ongoing health research that will improve students’ lives