Beyond the classroom: a descriptive social epidemiological study comparing two school sites in Modesto, California by investigating the relationship among place, health, and education

Modesto City Schools, in Modesto, California, has standardized test scores that are below the state average in California. Scores are even lower for specific schools in the district. Most research regarding student achievement only looks at the educational context, but it is critical to take a more expansive view that includes the larger community. In order to investigate factors that could impact educational success a descriptive social epidemiological case study was utilized to describe an elementary school and its surrounding attendance area in one of the most impoverished areas of Modesto. This site, Orville Wright Elementary, was compared to a second school site and community that was more affluent. Our research question was: What are the socio-structural factors within the Orville Wright Elementary attendance zone and community that may be affecting the health and well-being of the students and how does this compare to these same factors within the Lakewood attendance zone? Descriptive analysis included the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools to compare one school district attendance area to the other and focused on five indicators associated with child health and well-being necessary for educational success. These indicators are socioeconomic status and poverty, sufficient housing, violence and crime levels, availability of and access to health care and community resources. A range of sources were used to collect quantitative data for this study including the California Department of Education, the American Community Survey, and the City of Modesto Police Department. Results indicated hat even though the attendance areas are less than three miles apart, there were substantial differences between all study indicators. Authors then applied the theories of freedoms and unfreedoms (Sen, 1995) and deformed choices (Nussbaum, 2001) to analyze our findings and interpret what these results mean for children in Orville Wright and other communities facing similar challenges. We conclude by offering recommendations to improve the education of the students at Orville Wright and other schools throughout the district.