The Heartbeat of a Community
If you don’t feel well, it’s hard to focus your attention on someone or some task. So it’s no surprise that children are better learners when they’re feeling well.
At its core, school-based health is a community service; it serves students, staff, their families, and the wider community in certain instances. Schools are considered a public entity designed to serve public interests; it isn’t a stretch to see a health clinic as part of this public based mission. For community members with grown children, or young adults without children, the school plays a more integral role if it includes key services that cater to a wider group of stakeholders. For those who find health care confusing and costly, school-based health provides an alternative. More broadly, basic preventative care has the added benefit of relieving some strain on our national health care system.
In the June 2012 issue of the American School Board Journal, the article “Rx for Health” profiled the growth in school-based health and its benefits, which include better attendance, long-term cost savings and increased achievement. Clinics can diagnose bad eye-sight and other ailments, provide basic dental care, help children cope with asthma attacks, provide mental health services, and reduce the number of days of missed work for parents, to name just a few positive outcomes. Congress appropriated $200 million for school-based health programs as part of President Obama’s health care reform bill, and while the federal statement of financial support is crucial, there is still a great deal of awareness work that needs to be done on the community level in districts around the country.
Houston Independent School District serves more than 200,000 students each year, making it the seventh largest district in the United States. In 2005, Houston experienced an influx of residents after Hurricane Katrina, and the district realized that undetected vision problems were a critical issue. OneSight established a vision screening and eye exam program for these thousands of new students, and demand quickly outpaced the service capacity. To help handle to overflow, See to Succeed was formed as a joint effort among many entities including, but not limited to, the Berkley Eye Center, the Esilor Foundation, the University of Houston Eye Institute, Wal-Mart, HISD and OneSight. Reading scale scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills increased dramatically by 89 points among those students who participated in OneSight in 2010. Students who cannot see struggle to learn; screening and diagnosing vision problems will go a long way towards increasing student performance.
Centers serve more than just students. Vigo County School Corporation, a small Indiana district with a high poverty rate, struggled to keep up with rising health care costs that ultimately forced many employees out of the system. Eventually though, through combined efforts with their benefits committee and representatives from each bargaining unit, they learned of Wellness for Life, an independent health care company that focuses on patient care and needs, allowing its clients to select what is more appropriate for them. The district renovated a 1,900-square-foot building into a medical office and fronted the start-up costs. It has a 70% utilization rate in the district, and reported nearly 6,000 doctor’s visits from employees and their families in the first year. There are no co-payments and free generic drugs; the model is one of service, not profit. They recently received a rebate of $1.1 million dollars for services they didn’t use. The program keeps staff healthy and in school minimizing disruptions and providing a genuinely affordable service.
In an era of tightening budgets, when schools and communities are all hurting financially, school-based health programs offer a promising option for providing basic services. There is a need to continually assess and promote cost effective programs, ones which are boosting student performance by addressing impediments to learning. Raising awareness and building trust in local communities ultimately encourages a greater connection to, and continued support, for our nation’s public schools.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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