At the core of HLC work is the belief that our work must be done with communities. When HLC began working with the Vancouver Housing Authority (VHA) and Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) in 2016 to address the connections between housing and educational achievement, we explored the idea of having a Community Health Advocate (CHA) as a central element of the project. An education-focused CHA (or ECHA) would be able to work with the families of students who experience disproportionate barriers to educational success. Funding from Northwest Health Foundation (NWHF) allowed this partnership to examine the many different factors which impact health and education.
ECHAs started working with families focusing on school engagement. They built trust and strong relationships with the students to understand the barriers students face individually and collectively to attending school. They also engaged with school staff through conversations and collected surveys to gain a deeper level of understanding from the perspective of the school staff. Their work provided critical insight to systems partners about what we were doing well, and what we could do to better help families with challenges that impact student participation and attendance. ECHAs created a continuous feedback loop between families, students and partners, which enabled them to influence policy and system changes, and create agency for student voice at partner meetings. Students were even able to join HLC at our Legislative Luncheon in Olympia last year to speak directly to our state representatives and advocate for mental health support needs at their school.
Over the 3-year grant period, ECHAs engaged with 300 students, but this work would not have been as impactful without the collaboration between the school staff and administration, along with VHA and VPS. HLC is incredibly grateful to the NWHF for the funding opportunity, and for our partner working to improve equity in our community.