Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds

Imagine you have a painful toothache that has gone untreated.  Or a headache after squinting at the book you’re reading.  Now imagine yourself in a classroom, struggling to pay attention and be engaged in class, with this pain gnawing at you.

For students in every part of our country, this has become a day-to-day reality.

getcovered_smartthingtodo_0A student’s health is strongly linked with his or her academic performance. The lack of health coverage – and the corresponding likelihood of poorer health – therefore makes it harder for many children in low-income and minority communities, to reach their full potential.

That’s why President Obama has asked every American who knows someone without insurance to help them get covered between now and March 31.  Families and individuals can shop for plans and sign up for coverage online at; by phone at 1-800-318-2596/TTY 1-885-889-4325; by mail; or directly through an insurer, agent or broker. They can also find in-person assistance in their own community at

There are 5.7 million uninsured children in our country, including more than 730,000 African American children. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the new Health Insurance Marketplace, it’s a new day: families across the nation have greater access to quality health care.

For kids of all backgrounds, access to affordable, quality coverage means the opportunity to get regular checkups, vaccinations, depression screenings, dental care, and many other preventive services at no out-of-pocket cost to their parents or caregivers. With greater access to health care services, children will be more likely to receive the necessary care and treatment for mental health and physical illnesses that could impede their ability to perform in the classroom. We also know that parents can take better care of their children when they take care of themselves.

Already more than 9 million Americans have signed up for a private health insurance plan, or signed up for, renewed, or been determined eligible for Medicaid coverage.  Plus coverage in the Marketplace is more affordable than you might think.  Many people are eligible for lower costs to help pay for monthly premiums.  A family of four making $50,000 in Dallas, for example, can buy a plan for as little as $26 a month after financial assistance, and $72 a month in Miami.

And for young adults who are trying to decide on a higher education or the right job, or who perhaps are focusing on managing a chronic illness, the Affordable Care Act allows them to remain covered by their parents’ plan up to age 26.  More than 3 million young adults who otherwise would have been uninsured – including more than 500,000 African Americans — were able to get covered by their parents’ plan.

It is not enough to just have strong principals, top teachers, and engaged families. If a child is not healthy, then he or she is unlikely prepared to learn and develop – and contribute to their community. The Affordable Care Act is helping us make sure that more children across the nation are healthy and ready to learn.

David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The Initiative contributes to closing the achievement gap for African American students.

To learn more about the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace, visit or call (800) 318-2596.

Family and Community Engagement: The Ultimate Back-to-School Supply

In the last few months, all across the country, millions of students headed back to school. For many, this was a season of memorable experiences: having their fathers accompany them to their classrooms on the first day, pick them up from their first afterschool activity, and help them study for their first test. Activities like these highlight an important pillar of this Administration’s education agenda: encouraging caring adults – especially parents, and dads in particular – to take an interest in the academic performance of every child.

Family and parent engagement is a leading driver in students’ academic success. Research has linked meaningful family engagement to results like improved grades, higher achievement test scores, lower drop-out rates, increased confidence and ability to learn, and a stronger sense of the value of education.  For these and many other reasons, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans supports opportunities for fathers, families and communities to engage with students throughout the school year.

Last December, the Department released a draft framework emphasizing the importance of building effective school, family and community partnerships to support learning and development for children. Created at the Department’s request by Dr. Karen Mapp, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this framework encourages schools and districts to include parents and families as partners in the learning process. The framework suggests strategies like professional development, effective communication, and engagement strategies directly tied to student learning, as ways to work meaningfully with families. And, this is a two-way partnership. It’s vital to equip districts, school leaders, teachers and school staff to work with families.  It’s equally important for families to feel comfortable and welcome in their children’s schools, and to play an active role in supporting their academic success.

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