Health Literacy Integrated into High School Curriculum

Todd Vandenbark

Health literacy logoAs reported in the Colorado Springs newspaper The Gazette, El Paso County Public Health has partnered with Harrison High School to integrate health literacy education into classes beyond the traditional physical education and health offerings. Their goal is “to create a model that can be used by schools statewide to improve knowledge about all things health-related and decrease chronic diseases among minorities and those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale” (from, July 16, 2011). This effort is being funded by a $126,000, two-year grant from state tobacco taxes and administered by the state health department’s Office of Health Disparities, which works to eliminate health disparities linked to race and ethnicity.

The program will begin in the spring semester after a newly-formed advisory committee spends six months planning what will best benefit students to learn. Once it begins, most, if not all, of their classes will include subject-relevant information they need to know about access to low cost health care, disease prevention, health insurance and more.

If successful, this will have a cost-saving benefit: it may reduce trips to the emergency room. Typically, those who cannot afford to see a physician wait until an illness or other medical condition has become so severe that they seek emergency care. With knowledge of how to find low-cost health care, fewer trips to the ER should be the result.

Having worked in public education, the number one complaint of students I’ve listened to say school is “boring,” which is usually translated as “not relevant to my life and experience.” Imagine the possibilities if a student has a family member or friend who faces a health  issue, and this student can help ameliorate the situation. If this program proves successful, it could serve as a model for other school districts around the country. And it might, just might, help reduce the rate at which healthcare costs are increasing, at least in this area. Good luck, Harrison High School!