GlobalPolicy.TV - Terri Wright
Terri Wright

Terri Wright

Terri D. Wright is the director of the newly established Center for School, Health & Education Division of Public Health Policy and Practice at the American Public Health Association.  She will provide leadership to the strategic development and integration of public health in school-based health care and education.

She recently retired from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, MI where she served for 12 years as a program director for health policy. In that capacity Terri developed and reviewed the Foundation’s health programming priorities and initiatives, evaluated and recommended proposals for funding, and administered projects and initiatives. She also assisted in public policy analysis and related policy program development, as well as provided leadership to the Foundation’s school-based health care policy program.

Previously, Terri was maternal and child health director and bureau chief for Child and Family Services at the Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing, Michigan. In that role, she managed policy, programs and resources with the goal of reducing preventable maternal, infant, and child morbidity and mortality through policy and programming.

She received her bachelor’s degree in community and school health, as well as her New York State certification in secondary school education from the City University of New York and her master’s of public health degree in health planning and administration from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is currently a doctoral student in public health at the University of Michigan.

Terri takes an active leadership role in several professional associations and community organizations including the American Public Health Association and the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity and the Elimination of Health Disparities.

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"How do they not know that you are hungry and you didn’t eat yesterday?"

"They say don’t bring weapons, but … I walk to school … and, like, I don’t feel safe."

"My whole life is stressful. I ran away from home … There’s not enough food and everything for everybody to be there. One winter we had no heat. We had no electricity. We had no water. It was bad."

These quotes from students at a Detroit high school provide an inside glimpse at a significant barrier to education—one that is too often overlooked in the quest to improve graduation rates.

We have a good understanding of why students drop out of high school. But if we know this, why aren't students succeeding in schools and why aren't schools succeeding in helping them?

One in three teenage girls who have dropped out of high school give pregnancy or parenthood as the key reason. Once they leave, only half of them complete their high school education by age 22, compared with 90 percent of their non-parenting peers.

When asked by a potential community partner what was the one thing that could be done to improve the health of its citizens, Dr. Adewale Troutman, the then newly appointed director for Louisville’s health department* answered, “to make sure that everyone graduates from high school”.  Like many others, the community partner wondered - what does high school graduation have to do with health?

Step One: Call It Out

Education has been labeled the “civil rights issue of our time.” Dropout factories––high schools where no more than 60% of the students that start as freshmen make it to their senior year––has become a common-day term. These low-performing public schools tend to be in the poorest zip codes across our country. The negative impacts of poverty on the health and education of students is well documented, mostly affecting kids of color who tend to live in lower-income communities.

Although boys and girls who drop out of high school sometimes do so for similar reasons, there are also some clear gender differences in what drives them to drop out. If we are to make progress in supporting all students to graduate, we need to understand these different causes for boys and for girls, and create solutions tailored to anticipate, prevent and respond to them.

Graduation from high school is not only a rite of passage, it is the ticket to economic prosperity and quality of life. The formula is simple: High school graduates are more employable, healthier and more likely to have health insurance, all of which positively contribute to our economy.

But here’s the flip side of that formula: New graduation data show glaring achievement gaps for students of color and economically disadvantaged students.

Arif, a young nurse working in a remote Moroccan village, is saving lives with education, a pit latrine, and a group of curious, engaged students. Meeting Arif and seeing his program in action inspired me to think about the power of simple solutions, the things we take for granted in the United States, and the potential of young people to change the world.

The best teachers and schools cannot compensate for poor health, hunger, fear and sadness, violence, bullying or poverty. When students wrestle with these and other social barriers, they are more likely to miss school, do poorly on tests and drop out.