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Several young students sit on the floor and raise their hands for the teacher
Antonio Castanon Luna, the executive director of Mississippi Association of Educators, writes on the direct relationship between cultivating strong public schools and better public-health outcomes. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Opinion | Strong Public Schools and Better Health Outcomes Go Hand-in-Hand

Most of us recognize that Mississippi has lagged behind other states when it comes to prioritizing public education—increasingly, we do so at our peril. We know that it’s in all of our interests to ensure our public schools are as strong as they can be because strong schools today mean a stronger Mississippi tomorrow. However, a direct relationship exists between strong public schools and better public-health outcomes.

Mississippi continues to grapple with pressing health-care issues: a high prevalence of chronic diseases, dwindling availability of accessible and affordable health care. Lifting up the link between health and well-resourced public schools is critical in attacking these issues head-on. Raise Mississippi is championing a new vision for public schools that accentuates the need to incorporate common-sense health initiatives and services in our public schools.

Fostering Student Wellness

A National Association of School Nurses study found that every dollar invested in a full-time school nurse yields a return of $2.20 in teacher productivity. In-school support from school nurses, school counselors and psychologists aren’t just nice-to-have enhancements to our public schools; they’re a direct boost to student well-being and academic productivity.

Including health-care components for our public schools aligns seamlessly with Raise Mississippi’s vision of ensuring students not only receive traditional academic instruction, but also a wide range of in-school support to ensure better academic outcomes.

A graphic banner that says "Raise Our Students. Raise our Economy. Raise Mississippi"
“We ask all community members to join Raise Mississippi and help lead Mississippi towards a brighter, healthier and more prosperous future,” Antonio Castanon Luna writes. “It is on all of us to make sure it happens.” Photo by Mississippi Association of Educators

The Center for Disease Control’s Institute of Medicine documented findings on the health benefits of early public-health interventions, providing a potential 7% reduction in childhood obesity and also mitigating the harms of childhood hunger. We know intuitively that hungry children have a hard time concentrating on learning, but class and test performance tend to prove it.

Investing in public school health-care services not only contributes to student well-being and lays the foundation for long-term health and wellness, the investment will also reduce future strains on Mississippi’s health-care system and increase our statewide quality of life.

Creating Learning Environments for Success

Safe, clean and modern school buildings also play a significant role in student health and learning outcomes. Improved learning environments boost student morale and reduce health risks, all of which promote lifelong success.

For Mississippi to have the best educational outcomes, it must retain its top educators and school staff. Raise Mississippi advocates for offering educators a competitive, living income so that qualified and gifted educators can remain dedicated to nurturing the state’s future generations. This continuous support will not only positively impact the mental health of educators and staff, but it will help nurture a sense of community as they work with parents to ensure that our students can take advantage of a comprehensive educational experience.

In addition to serving educators across the state as the executive director of the Mississippi Association of Educators, I hold a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University. These intersecting experiences provide me with a unique perspective on improving student success, increasing quality of life, and incorporating common-sense health initiatives and services in our public schools to boost our local and state economies.

If we want to foster a healthier, more prosperous Mississippi for generations to come, a multi-pronged approach elevating our students’ health and well-being while ensuring a high-quality education is paramount.

We ask all community members to join Raise Mississippi and help lead Mississippi toward a brighter, healthier and more prosperous future. It is on all of us to make sure it happens. Together, we can ensure that stronger, healthier schools will make a stronger, healthier Mississippi.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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