The latest on school-based health: Partnership launches a health center at Normandy High School

Communications Manager, For the Sake of All

The choices were not great: attend school sick and not feeling well or spend the entire day getting to the doctor’s office to obtain treatment.

That was a decision often made by many students at Normandy High School, according to surveys, interviews, and focus groups on community health held by For the Sake of All.

With few primary care options in the 23 communities that make up the Normandy Schools Collaborative and a lack of health insurance and transportation, students in the high-need public school district were typically missing a full day of school to visit a doctor’s office or a medical clinic far away. Some students were calling in absent to take sick siblings to the doctor’s office. Or, they were just skipping the doctor altogether, gritting out symptoms at home – or while attending school.

But that is soon to change. A new health center opened on Aug. 10 at Normandy High School with full primary health care and behavioral health services offered by Affinia Healthcare.

No longer will students have to take two bus lines and MetroLink to get to health services in the Central West End as many did. Nor will they find themselves going to a hospital emergency room for routine treatment at more than double the rate of students in wealthier school districts because of a lack of nearby primary care.

“We hope that with a resource like this conveniently located on one of our campuses our families get needed health services, but also eliminate a barrier that can keep some students out of school,” said Normandy Schools Collaborative Superintendent Dr. Charles Pearson. “This collaboration can have a direct, positive impact on the entire community.”

The health center, named Affinia Healthcare at Normandy High School, is also a cause for celebration among For the Sake of All and its many partners. Last year, For the Sake of All staff and dozens of community partners identified school-based health centers as a key strategy in tackling health inequities affecting African Americans in the St. Louis region. The Normandy High School health center is the first new health center to open under this initiative.

“School-based health centers provide access to health care and preventive services where young people spend most of their waking hours—in school,” said Dr. Jason Purnell, director of For the Sake of All. “When properly implemented in schools with high needs, they result in better health and better educational outcomes. Thousands of these centers exists across the country, and we’re excited to be part of the expansion of the model here in St. Louis.”

Though there are thousands of school-based health centers in the United States, St. Louis has just a handful. For the past year, For the Sake of All has convened work groups with participants in the health, education, and student development fields to forge partnerships and establish proven steps to sustain the existing health centers and open many more.

The Normandy High School health center was made possible through a partnership formed in January between Normandy Schools Collaborative, Affinia Healthcare, BJC HealthCare, Wyman, and For the Sake of All.

Affinia health practitioners will provide the primary care. BJC will provide equipment and supplies. Wyman will work with the school district’s nurses, counselors, student development providers, and administrators to integrate the health center into the everyday culture and programming of the school. And For the Sake of All will continue to consult with the center to support its sustainability and best practices.

Two more health centers are currently in the planning stages in schools in North St. Louis County, and similar partnerships are forming to ensure those health centers are sustainable and effective. Part of that work includes making Missouri an affiliate of the School-Based Health Alliance which works to expand and sustain high-performing school health centers around the nation. That emerging organization, to be named the SHOW ME School-Based Health Alliance, is in the early planning stage.

For the Sake of All and its partners aim to build infrastructure and support to open a health center in every high-need high school in the St. Louis region.

The centers have many benefits beyond direct healthcare delivery. Research found in our Discussion Guide on healthy schools shows school-based health centers improve attendance and curb school drop-out rates. They enhance learning environments and empower students to take care of themselves. Further research shows the stress of poverty and neighborhood violence can harm child development and trigger poor health in adulthood. So getting accessible health care for students in a highly supportive setting is an important intervention.

Over the course of conversations in the high school this past year For the Sake of All also learned students and parents were having difficulty finding accessible behavioral health support for mental health issues, despite coping with many intense stresses in their homes and neighborhoods. This gap in services was concerning because a quarter of Normandy High School students surveyed by For the Sake of All reported having trouble sleeping at night, feeling sad, or worrying about the future.

Wyman, a youth development organization, is working with Affinia Healthcare to ensure the center will be highly sensitive to trauma among its young patients and will work throughout the school district to ensure students are aware of the center and have access to it. In For the Sake of All surveys, more than 85% of Normandy students, teachers, and staff said they would utilize its services.

There’s more to come in the next year in St. Louis on school-based health. Stay tuned. But for now For the Sake of All is excited students, faculty, and staff of Normandy schools have this important resource within steps of their classrooms, sports practices, clubs, and other activities.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Check out For the Sake of All’s full Report on the health and well-being of African Americans in the St. Louis region and why it matters for everyone. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @4theSakeofAll.

Investing in our children’s futures: hope grows for Child Development Accounts

Communications Manager, For the Sake of All

Research from the Center for Social Development at Washington University suggests nine out of ten parents aspire for their children to go to college regardless of their income, their ethnicity, or where they live.

Ask Charlene Jackson of St. Louis. She firmly believes college will one day happen for her two young grandchildren, despite her lower wages.

But that dream often fades and doesn’t become a reality for low income families. Jackson, for example, said that until recently she had no plan for how to get her grandchildren through college, but was just expecting it to all work out someday.

In the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County there are critical racial disparities when it comes to African Americans going to college. Though trends are improving, only a little more than half of African Americans 25 years and older have gone on to take college level courses. That’s compared to nearly three quarters of white residents. Finances certainly are a challenge for African American families overall. More than 30% of African American households live in poverty compared to 9% of white households.

It’s important to empower African American families like the Jacksons with strategies to get their children and grandchildren to college. How can St. Louis push more children on a path to college built on a concrete plan and not just dreams?

One strategy backed intensively by For the Sake of All is the creation of Child Development Accounts that enable families to build assets targeted for children’s higher education. The creation of such accounts is also listed among the Ferguson Commission’s “Calls to Action.” For the Sake of All and its partners believe every child in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County should be automatically enrolled in these accounts at birth. To get there, a collaborative group of partners is working on a plan to enroll 30,800 children in 20 of the region’s most high-need ZIP Codes into the Missouri MOST 529 College Savings Plan. There’s more work to be done on this venture, but momentum is building.

Research shows the accounts have positive effects for parents and children – even if assets in those accounts seem minimal or don’t approach the full cost of a college tuition. According to the SEED OK experiment conducted by the Center for Social Development, Child Development Accounts made available to a sampling of children throughout Oklahoma were found to help mothers increase expectations of their children’s education, boost mothers’ mental health, and improve children’s social-emotional development.

Several of these accounts are already in place in St. Louis. They include Beyond Housing’s Promise Accounts, which were recently highlighted in the online publication, The 74; The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis’ Future Forward program; the City of St. Louis Treasurer’s Office College Kids program; and Focus on College!, a program created by Wells Fargo and the United Way of Greater St. Louis featured in the above video. “Having money saved for college is about more than just the dollars in the account, it’s about actually instilling a sense of hope,” says For the Sake of All Director Jason Purnell in the video.

Charlene Jackson can attest to the power of Child Development Accounts. In 2015 Jackson’s grandson and granddaughter were automatically enrolled in savings accounts through the College Kids program. Jackson described the presence of the accounts as “a boost” that’s made her think more clearly about how to get her grandchildren to and through college: “They have given me the push to say, O.K., you can do this.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Check out For the Sake of All’s Discussion Guide on creating economic opportunity, or its full Report on the health and well-being of African Americans in the St. Louis region and why it matters for everyone.