Yasmeen Khan is an associate producer covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
High school students at the Morris Educational Campus in the Bronx now have access to a sparkling new health clinic, complete with exam rooms, a dental suite, counseling area and full-time staff. The clinic is the first of seven new health centers scheduled to open in New York City schools this academic year.
The Department of Education built the clinic as part of its plan to open 20 new school-based clinics over three years. The clinics are run by community-based partners, and the care provided to students is free.
"For me, personally, this is ideal," said Shawn Bowen, a pediatrician with the Montefiore School Health Program which is running the clinic at the Morris campus. Bowen will be the full-time medical provider at the clinic. "I think this is the way that healthcare should be administered to adolescents in our communities because this is where they are."
Students often miss school for a health appointment or forgo services altogether, said principals at the Morris campus.
"Having someone on site to deal with some of those immediate issues, like asthma, is fantastic because that can take a student out for the day," said Matthew Mazzaroppi, principal of the Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies.
He said asthma is one of the key health needs among his students, along with diabetes. Students also need mental health counseling and reproductive health services, he said.
Carmen Bardeguez Brown, principal of the School for Excellence in the Morris building, said she had previously hired a health coordinator at her school solely to assess the health needs of students, including identifying which students were homeless or suffered from treatable diseases.
"We are located in still the poorest congressional district in the United States, and health is always an issue," she said. "And a lot of the time our students do not have insurance and this will help us address that important need."
The approximately 1,600 students enrolled in all four schools in the building will have access to the clinic. Parents must consent for their children to be treated at the health center, though the center can treat students for pressing issues like injuries or illness without parental permission, said David Appel, director of the Montefiore School Health Program.
Students can opt in to reproductive health services on their own volition, such as receiving condoms or getting tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Montefiore hopes to add a vision center to the clinic in the future, said Appel. He said the health center will also employ a community health organizer to facilitate activities like getting students and their families to eat better and exercise. He said that estimates show that 30 to 50 percent of children in the Bronx are overweight or obese.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who cut the ribbon for the new health center, said student health directly affects student achievement, particularly when students are absent from school because of health issues. He said the D.O.E. committed $30 million to build the 20 new health centers, to be completed in the 2015-2016 school year.
The new health center at the Morris Educational Campus brings the total number of school-based health clinics in New York City to 129.