How will Mark Zuckerberg's new school challenge education?

The Primary School, spearheaded by Mark Zuckerberg's wife Priscilla Chan, is designed to embrace a holistic perspective on education with its combination of health care services and early childhood programming. 

Rick Wilking
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walks with his wife Priscilla Chan at the annual Allen and Co. conference at the Sun Valley, Idaho Resort in this July 11, 2013 photo.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has a new business venture, and no, it's not in tech.

Under the leadership of Zuckerberg's wife, Priscilla Chan, the couple is planning to open their own school in Palo Alto, Calif. The Primary School will serve the children of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, Kindergarten through grade 12. More distinctively, the school will also provide its students health care services from birth to graduation.

“I'm so proud of Priscilla for starting The Primary School – a new kind of school that brings education and healthcare together,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “Health and education are closely connected. When children aren't healthy, they can't learn as easily.”

In partnership with Ravenswood Family Health Center, the school will even offer prenatal care for parents. There is no tuition.

The health center, located close to the school, will give comprehensive health and dental care for students and their families. The school will also have an on-site clinic.

“By integrating education, health, and family support services starting at birth, TPS will expand the traditional definition of ‘school’ in order to prepare all children to succeed in college, career, and life,” the organization’s website reads.

Programming starts next year with full-time school for four-year-olds and parent-based activities for infants and two-year-olds.

Dr. Chan, a pediatrician and teacher, will be the CEO. Before going to medical school, she ran an after-school program and taught elementary school science in Boston.

“My experiences of running an after school program in a low income housing project and working as a pediatrician in a safety net hospital has shown me first hand that we need a better way of caring for and educating our children,” she wrote in her own Facebook post. “The effects of trauma and chronic stress create an invisible burden for children that makes it very difficult for them to be healthy and live up to their academic potential.”

“We must address these issues holistically in order to allow children to succeed,” she added.

Health and education have long been intertwined as a social issue. According to the 2010-2011 National Survey of Children’s Health nearly one in four children are reported to have been diagnosed with at least one of a list of 18 health conditions thought to be chronic. But support for personal development and attention to health, the authors write, are essential to all students.

Chan’s holistic approach echoes the modus operandi of “whole-child” education programs, in which every factor outside of K-12 school is considered pertinent to education as a whole. The Harlem Children’s Zone, for instance, is an ongoing community project that encompasses every stage of education starting from early childhood as well as offering an array of community programs, including ones designed to that promote health.

While there have been mixed reviews of their subsequent academic impact, early childhood education programs like HCZ’s Baby College still serve the community in ways that had been lacking previously.

"There's a lot more to learning and development than test scores," W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, tells NPR in May. "And so if it only has modest impacts, it's probably worth it."

Chan’s Primary School will opens its doors August 2016.

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