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City of Seattle

March 17, 2:21 PM click here to comment > 1

Helping our students stay healthy

One of the most important ways to help our youth and families succeed is to ensure they have access to high-quality health care services. Innovators like Geoffrey Canada at the Harlem Children’s Zone have emphasized the importance of providing health centers as part of the path to better schools, ensuring students are healthy and cared for, which in turn improves their learning and achievement.

Since 1990 the Families and Education Levy has helped provide that care on the campuses of several Seattle schools. On Tuesday morning I joined a delegation with Councilmember Tim Burgess to take a tour of two school based health centers funded in part by the Families and Education Levy – as well as spend some time in the classroom with students.

The first stop on the tour was Ballard High School. The Ballard Teen Health Center, available to any student at Ballard High, offers a full range of services, including primary care, mental health, and health education. The site has examination rooms, pharmacy and lab services, and trained health care staff that can provide services, consultation, and support. A mental health counselor and a nurse practitioner work together as a team to provide comprehensive services to meet student needs. It’s an impressive set-up, and it’s no wonder that students use it frequently.

Sara Rigel of Swedish Medical Center manages the Teen Health Center, in partnership with Ballard High School and Seattle-King County Public Health. Swedish contributes 30% of the operating costs for the clinic, and leverages partnerships with other providers to provide services such as lab work as well as providing confidential space for organizations like Asian Counseling and Referral Services that visit the school weekly.

We heard from several students at Ballard just why they like the Teen Health Center so much. One of them said that the Center is very open and welcoming but confidential. Students can hang out there to do homework or even get a cup of tea, but they can also get their health care needs addressed quickly and safely, from injuries to immunizations to counseling.

Recent studies indicate that Seattle’s school-based health centers, like Ballard’s Teen Health Center, are making a difference for students. Students who have used high school-based health centers are 33% more likely to graduate than students in comparable situations who have not used these centers.

After the tour at Ballard High School, we traveled to Aki Kurose Middle School Academy in the Rainier Valley. Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield of the Seattle Public Schools joined us for this part of the tour. The Student Wellness Center here is operated by Group Health Cooperative, which also operates the centers at Franklin and Nathan Hale High Schools and at Washington Middle School. Group Health also provides the mental health services in the health centers at Cleveland and Rainier Beach High Schools.

Like the Center at Ballard, the health center at Aki Kurose is an important part of student life. It provides a similar range of health services as at Ballard, including immunizations, primary care, and mental health screenings. There’s even a laundry facility so that students can have clean clothes while at school. Dr. Robert Nohle, Chief of Pediatrics at Group Health, joined us on the tour and wrote a good blog post about the Center and what he saw there.

For many students, the Center provides health care services they couldn’t receive anywhere else. We met with students who use the Center regularly, including one student with a chronic lung disease who gets treated at the Center as well as a student whose grades improved significantly after receiving counseling services. They also got a chance to talk with me and Interim Superintendent Enfield about their school, what they liked and didn’t like, and offered some very good suggestions about how we can improve our schools.

Alana Peterson works in the health center, providing many kinds of care to Aki Kurose students.

The school based health centers have a long history in our schools. It began as a pilot project at Rainier Beach High School in 1988, which became the model for the implementation of the 1990 Families and Education Levy. The first Levy funded seven new high school based health centers and continued support of the Rainier Beach program. Currently the Levy helps fund health centers at 10 high schools and four middle schools throughout the city, with an additional site opening in 2011 at the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center. The proposed renewal of the Families and Education Levy currently pending at the City Council would continue supporting these programs and open a new health center at Mercer Middle School. The Levy will also fund health services for several elementary schools in Seattle that need these services the most.

Last year we held over 130 public meetings, engaging over 3,000 Seattleites, as part of our Youth and Families Initiative. One of the most common things we heard from the public was that for their families to do well, for their children to succeed, we needed to provide more health services on campus. We’re responding to that need by taking the successful models we saw at Ballard, Aki Kurose, and other schools and expanding them to serve more students at other schools in the proposed Families and Education Levy renewal.

After the tour I walked over to Ms. Richardson’s 8th grade classroom, where I spoke with students about the value of service. Ms. Richardson started the class with a writing assignment, asking students to respond with their thoughts about President Kennedy’s quote from his 1961 Inaugural Address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

After they shared their responses, I told the students how I drew inspiration from President Kennedy’s quote, and told them about my own path to service. My parents were very active in community organizations, and they expected us to participate too. In doing so, I found that I really enjoyed service, and it made me feel good to help other people.

I also took questions from the students. They wanted to know what I liked most about being mayor (meeting the public in events like this), what I found hardest about being mayor (balancing my time, especially making sure I have time for my family) and how far my commute by bicycle was (about 14 miles round trip from Greenwood to City Hall), among others.

The tours were a good opportunity to see some of the things that are working well in our schools, and how the Families and Education Levy has made a real and meaningful difference in the lives of our students and their families. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to improve our schools. Meeting the students and the staff that are working hard to help them gave us renewed energy and commitment to make sure that we provide students with the support they need.

Photos by: Allison Burson and Robert Cruickshank

Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from Eileen Warr-Marti
Time March 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm

I am pleased to see how well these student health centers are serving the needs of Seattle’s children and teens. This is a vast improvement from the days a parent would have to take 1/2 a day off work and the child would miss 1/2 a day of school for immunizations and sports check ups.