Children in rural America face a unique set of health and education disparities.  In comparison to urban students, rural youth demonstrate higher levels of mortality; suicide; obesity; tobacco, alcohol, and illegal substance use; drinking and driving; teen births; and carrying weapons. They also have lower rates of school readiness, proficiency on standardized tests, and math performance.

Tailored solutions are needed to address these challenges particularly since more than half of US school districts are located in rural settings. These and other challenges fueled MCE’s decision to launch the Center for Rural School Health & Education to be led by rural expert, Elaine Belansky, PhD.

Belansky is a community-based participatory researcher who has been working in rural, low-income schools for 19 years.  She studies how universities and communities can work together to make schools healthy places. Her team developed a strategic planning process called “Assess. Identify. Make it Happen.” (AIM) which helps schools implement school-based environment and policy changes that support physical activity, healthy eating, mental health, and school engagement and decrease bullying, high risk sexual behavior, and drug use. Currently, her team is partnering with rural schools in Colorado to create comprehensive health and wellness plans that ensure students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.

Belansky has received over $13 million in grants from the CDC, NIH, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The Colorado Health Foundation. She will begin her duties at Morgridge College May 1. Her six-person team will join her June 1. The research team includes:

  • Shannon Allen – Research Faculty
  • Ben Ingman – Research Faculty
  • Shirley Berg – Business Manager and AIM Facilitator
  • Jerry Jones – AIM Facilitator and Community Coordinator
  • Carla Loecke – Director of Curriculum and Training
  • Susan Portner – AIM Facilitator

The team of rural experts will engage rural school and community partners in Colorado and beyond to identify and address the most pressing issues facing rural education. The goal of the Center for Rural School Health & Education is to be the catalyst for achieving health and academic equity in rural communities across the nation.

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