The Primary School - The Nexus of Education and Healthcare

by NDFAuthors

  • Jan 20, 2016

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are taking education reform into their own hands. The couple is planning to set up The Primary School in East Palo Alto with the goal to support families and help children from underserved communities to reach their full potential.

Last year, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have welcomed their first child into the world. Inspired by the prospect of becoming parents, they have taken on many humanitarian initiatives, all in a goal to aid in creation of better future for the children. One of the things that they have done since 2010 to aid in education reform was to donate $100 million to Newark, New Jersey’s public school system; pledged to donate $120 million to Bay Area public schools, and have donated  $15 million to America’s newest education model – Alt Schools. However, The Primary School, which is Facebook moguls’ latest attempt at education reform is their boldest yet.



All Children Should Be Given  Equal Opportunity

Priscilla Chan has worked both as a pediatrician and an elementary school teacher. With the plan to bridges the two fields, the idea for The Primary School was born.



Chan has always felt that all children should be given equal opportunity to achieve their dreams. However, an academic achievement gap persists between white children and students of color – and wealthier children and their lower-income peers. The health gap between different races and socio-economic classes directly mirrors the academic achievement gap. This begs the questions: what are the underlying causes that account for the disparity in academic achievement and health? And how can The Primary School be a solution?

Research shows that many children face challenges such as poverty, neglect, family instability and poor environmental conditions long before they start any schooling. These challenges have the potential to alter the body’s ability to maintain health and promote optimal brain development. The 2010-2011 the National Survey of Children’s Health has reported that 25% of children have been diagnosed with one of 18 health conditions thought to be chronic. It is no surprise that children with these conditions have very poor educational outcomes that are far below their true potential.

The Primary School in East Palo Alto

Chan plans to set up The Primary School in East Palo Alto with the goal to support families and help children from underserved communities to reach their full potential.  The school will be private, not-for-profit, and completely free of charge.



However, unlike conventional schools that focus on K-12 education, The Primary School aims to support, “the whole child”, by implementing novel techniques that address the complex and interrelated social and emotional challenges students face. In order for the school to be fully integrated with health services, The Primary School has officially partnered with the Ravenswood Family Health Center.

The relationship between The Primary School and a family begins before the child is born.  Parents begin to eceive support from The Primary School beginning at the prenatal level.

A health center, located close to the school, will provide comprehensive health and dental care for students and their families. Children studying at the school may also receive health care at the on-site clinic. Personalization of care and support is one of The Primary School’s top priorities. Chan believes that The Primary School’s assistances should be uniquely tailored to each family’s needs and choices for the children to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.  

The first families to be admitted to The Primary School will begin in August 2016 as a full-time school for four year olds and parent-based programming for infants and two year olds. The facility will expand with an additional grade each year and is expected to cater to 700 students once fully built. Although The Primary School website allows for interested families to stay in touch, there is no information as to how the school will choose families if there is a surplus of applicants – which is bound to happen.

The Primary School: a better way of caring for and educating children

Chan has stated that the personal experiences she has had are what inspired her to, “find a better way of caring for and educating our children.” Prior to being CEO at the primary school, Chan had led an after-school program in a housing project and worked at a hospital that was focused on helping low-income and uninsured patients. In Zuckerberg’s announcement about The Primary School, he wrote that “Health and education are closely connected…when children aren’t healthy, they can’t learn as easily. Many kids and teachers across the country deal with the consequences of poor health in classrooms every day.” On a personal note, he also told the world how excited he was to see his wife grow as an entrepreneur.


What do you think of these initiatives? Do you think that combining health care and primary school is a way to bridge the gaps between children? Would you welcome such a school into your neighborhood or city?  
Please share your views and comments. We love to read them.