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Spokane County recognized for health innovations

Spokane County has been recognized as one of six communities where innovative approaches are being used to help residents live healthier lives.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced Wednesday its annual “culture of health prize” at the Aspen Ideas Festival Spotlight on Health in Aspen, Colorado.

The prize comes with a $25,000 cash award.

Spokane’s achievement dates back several years to a series of initiatives started across the community designed to keep young people in school and preparing them for jobs and healthier lives. Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said the award “provides Spokane with national and global recognition for what we are doing.”

The foundation has worked for 40 years to improve American health.

Programs implemented by Spokane Public Schools to tackle what had been a 60 percent graduation rate as recently as 2006 were identified as a key component of the work in Spokane.

The award focused on an early warning system that identifies students who are slipping behind through database management. Tailored interventions are then undertaken.

A second Spokane schools program targets students with four unexcused absences during a school year. Community Attendance Support Teams, comprised of educators and others in the community, meet with the student and family to identify and resolve issues to get the students back in class.

Other programs include full-day kindergarten and skills training for young students.

The graduation rate in Spokane Public Schools rose to 80 percent in 2013.

Education is seen as a “key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and poor health,” according to Priority Spokane, a community-based organization that sought the award.

Young people with better education are less likely to drift into drug and alcohol use or engage in risky sexual behavior. Better education also results in better-paying jobs with health benefits, the organization said.

As part of the award, the foundation also praised:

• Spokane Valley Tech, a collaborative school effort to develop career skills in science and technology.

• The Academic Health Sciences Center at the Riverpoint Campus.

• A Neighborhoods Matter initiative that trains youth to become advocates for local issues.

Gov. Jay Inslee said communities, like Spokane, should set priorities to address health concerns.

“Educational attainment is clearly linked to both long-term health and economic prospects, and the community knew they had to do better by their kids,” the governor said in a news release.


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