Spokane County is being honored for its efforts to improve the health and well-being of young people. The county is one of six communities across the national honored with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's 'Culture of Health' prize. The community implemented a series of initiatives designed to keep young people in school, and to prepare them for jobs and healthier lives.
In 2009 the group "Priority Spokane", a coalition of government, businesses, and academics, turned its focus to education improvements. Part of their motivation was the 2006 high school graduation rate: 60 percent. Priority Spokane instituted several programs, including an early warning system that identifies students who are slipping behind, a program that targets students with four unexcused school absences, and full-day kindergarten, and skills training for young students.
By 2013, the graduation rate had improved to 80 percent. County Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn says a study by the County Health District helped inspire the effort.
O'Quinn: "It talked about how some in our community with less education are more likely to smoke, engage in binge drinking, have an increased mortality rate among babies, and die younger. If we can overall improve the education in our community, it will have an overall impact not only on the economy of our community, but the health of our community."
O'Quinn attended the Aspen Ideas Festival Spotlight on Health, in Aspen, Colorado, where the award was announced this week. It came with a $25,000 cash award.