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School board mulls health clinics

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Students in the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools may soon visit the doctor at school.

At the March school board meeting held this week, members of the Nash-Rocky Board of Education voted unanimously to explore the feasibility of establishing an on-site health clinic at Williford Elementary School with the eventual goal of establishing such clinics at schools throughout the district.

“There are some folks who will question why a local education agency is even delving into mental and physical health services. But the brutal reality is that we have some children confronting such challenges in these areas that we can't effectively educate them until we address these barriers to learning,” Nash-Rocky Mount School Superintendent Dr. Shelton Jefferies told the school board.

On Feb. 28, members of the school board and the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools cabinet staff visited New Hanover County to examine the Wilmington Health Access for Teens (WHAT) clinics located on the campuses of the school district’s four comprehensive high schools. These clinics, which Jefferies termed “a national model,” have operated in New Hanover County for 14 years at almost no cost to the school district because charges are passed on through Medicaid and private insurance billing.

“These clinics have fully-fledged medical providers with an on-site therapist. They can provide a wide range of services including strep tests, vaccinations, sports physicals, administering medications and helping with asthma-related incidents. And services are managed by the local health department,” Jefferies said.

Jefferies said he was especially struck by the comparative progress that New Hanover County was making in this area.

“While New Hanover has been increasing access to these services for more than 14 years, we have been eliminating these services here due to lack of funding,” Jefferies said.

School board member Bill Sharpe said he was impressed with the collaboration he saw between educators and medical professiona at the Wilmington clinics.

“I was also impressed by the impact on seat time. We lose a lot of time in class because parents have to pick up their kids and take them to doctor's appointments. This also means that parents have to leave their jobs to take kids to these appointments,” Sharpe said.

Jefferies said that the Nash-Rocky Mount school district is facing a big challenge regarding chronic absenteeism.

“When you break it down, chronic abseenteeism speaks to the aggregate poverty in a district; it speaks to access to mental and physical health services; it speaks to unstable home environments and transciency,” Jefferies said. “If we can embed services within the district to address these challenges, we go a long way toward our overarching goal of improving the quality of instruction for every single student.”

Ann Edge, chairwoman of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education, said she was excited by the passion for the program she saw in Wilmington.

“As a former elementary school principal, I was excited to think about the impact of this on an elementary school campus,” Edge said.

Jefferies said he felt that the need for these services was greatest in the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools at the elementary school level.

“Imagine every elementary school being staffed with a mental health technician, a full-time social worker and and a full-time counselor. Think of the good we could could do,” Jefferies said.

As he made is his case for school-based health clinics, Jefferies said he considers expansion of mental health services a school security issue.

“We have heard a lot about school safety recently, but there are no more pressing safety issues than unaddressed mental health issues. We have to partner with others to provide these resouces in an educational setting. If you talk about learning—which is our core mission—no learning can take place if students are disrupting the learning enviroment due to unaddressed mental or physical health issues,” Jefferies said.

Sharpe agreed.

“We are trying to train kids, but before we can educate kids, we have to work with the whole child. That means dealing with nutrition and health care,” Sharpe said.

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