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Viewpoint: Health and wellness centers in schools improve all outcomes

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Adrienne Wallace
Guest Columnist

This is the fifth in a series of columns on the winning ideas at the Pete DuPont Freedom Foundation’s Reinventing Delaware 2018 competition in early December.

Imagine a world where children who experience health disparities are provided coordinated and holistic health and wellness services.

Now, imagine the services provided right from the school building where they attend classes every day.

Research shows providing early and consistent childhood health care reduces health disparities.

Moreover, my experience growing up in poverty in Wilmington and also as a public health practitioner informs my belief this should happen in schools.

Children who attend schools that integrate students’ wellness are likely to have fewer absences, higher academic achievement and self-esteem, and are more likely to graduate from high school. Because 95% of the pediatric population spend seven hours a day in school, schools have a perfect space to encourage wellness. During a child’s developmental stages and if exposed to poverty, may result in disadvantaged health statuses, including low cognitive achievement, poor social skills and behavioral problems. By creating healthy and accessible social and physical environments, we promote good health for all.

My vision is to create an integrated health, wellness, education and exposure program serving youth who attend the two charter schools embedded at The Community Education Building (CEB). The CEB currently partners with Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks Wilmington Charter Schools, serving 1,100 students. With more than 75% of the student population Medicaid eligible, residing in ZIP codes known to be underserved, and facing periods of poverty and trauma over their youthful life course, it is imperative to implement programs onsite that address these issues as they present themselves. It is also important to develop preventative initiatives that children and families embrace and participate in, in order to improve their quality of life.

The CEB recognizes the need to promote wellness for children and families, and wishes to partner with hospitals, companies, and nonprofit organizations to create a culture of wellness for their school community, which currently lacks that access. Our mission is to make sure young people become self-aware and health-literate because that is the key to reducing health disparities.

Our model, which is set to launch in the fall of 2020, will address prevalent pediatric issues such as trauma, behavioral health, obesity, asthma, visual issues, ADD/ADHD and pediatric dental caries, which have strong implications of cardiovascular issues in one’s adulthood. Our physical wellness programs will also provide immunizations, dental, vision assessments and hearing screenings.

Having a comprehensive health and wellness center in an academic setting will change the trajectory of not only each student’s experience with the healthcare system, but their long-range health and academic outcomes. Health-related staff working along with teachers and school administrators under one roof results in a strong team of advocates who are passionate about improving a child’s well-being.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the Social Determinants of Health as the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play which affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.

This center will finally create a space for children in the First State to learn, grow and have access to specific health and wellness services that cultivate a sense of security, stability and tranquility. Students and their families will gain access to resources that will provide aid and guidance for any adverse health/life event, which could limit them from achieving at their greatest capacity. It is our moral responsibility and honorable duty to assure that this will be an existing possibility. 

Adrienne Wallace is vice president of Wellness at The Community Education Building.

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