The Total Child

School-Based Health Providers Celebrate National Health Center Week

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Andrea Shore, Director of Programs at the School-Based Health Alliance wrote this week’s guest post on National Health Center Week. The post focuses on Outside In, a community health organization dedicated to serving young people who are at risk of homelessness, alienation and school failure, that sponsors the school-based health center in Milwaukie High School in North Clackamas School District in Oregon.

 Jenn’s pretty pumped about going back to school. Every August brings the promise of a new school year—an opportunity to get caught up with returning students and meet the newcomers. Jenn is a nurse practitioner at Milwaukie High School in North Clackamas School District ( Ore.) The high school’s health center is sponsored by Outside In, a community health organization dedicated to serving young people who are at risk of homelessness, alienation, and school failure. The center provides care for the entire student body—everything from sports physicals and immunizations to birth control and food insecurity screens. Jenn provides counseling, guidance, mentoring, and healing in a setting that’s familiar, friendly, and safe for Milwaukie High students. It’s a setting that guarantees unparalleled access to health care for some of the most underserved and high-need young people. And it’s a setting Jenn wouldn’t trade for anything.

As teachers and students prepare to kick off a new school year this month, so too are thousands of school-based health center (SBHC) providers like Jenn. SBHCs are a powerful investment in the health and academic potential of children and adolescents. They provide comprehensive primary care and mental health care (and sometimes even dental services!) in an environment that students trust: their school. By being located on school grounds, SBHCs embed themselves in the lives of the children and adolescents and are a mission-critical partner with the school, not just a guest in the building.

 The model has a long—and growing—history of support from community health centers like Outside In. According to our 2013-14 Census, 43% of SBHCs are sponsored by federally qualified health centers (FQHC). The unique partnership between our nation’s community health centers and public schools are transforming schools into hubs of wellness, socialization, emotional development, and leadership.

“Our mission to educate is incredibly enriched by our long-time partnership with Outside In,” said Mark Pinder, the Principal at Milwaukie High. “And it’s been amazing for the students, many of whom have never been to a doctor, dentist, or mental health counselor.” By providing an array of services directly on campus, the health center helps Milwaukie High students feel supported at school—and that translates to higher academic achievement. The proof is in the outcomes, and Pinder reports the attendance and graduation rates have been climbing steadily. Most impressive, I think, is that the achievement gap that is so often associated with socioeconomic status and race has all but evaporated in this high-poverty school.

 The School-Based Health Alliance celebrates National Health Center Week by saluting Outside In, and the thousands of health center staff working in 2,300+ public schools across the nation. These advocates bring hope and healing to the asthmatic student who can’t breathe, the opioid drug user who’s on the brink of academic failure, the chronically-absent teen whose mom died recently, and the young girl who courageously reveals abuse by family members.

 I thank you for your tireless efforts to ensure that all children and teens can thrive in the classroom—and in life.

 If any education leaders are interested in how to create a school-health partnership, visit our website for more information.

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