The Other 60 Percent

Federal grants benefit school health clinics

More than $1 million in federal grants will help three Colorado school districts expand or improve their school-based health services in the coming year.

The Durango High School Health Clinic (Photo courtesy of Julie Snider-Popp)

Thomas Jefferson High School in southeast Denver, Durango High School and four school-based clinics in Adams 14 will benefit from the awards, which were announced in December. The grants are part of a $200 million program created by the Affordable Care Act to make capital improvements at school-based health clinics across the country.

The recent announcement marked the third and last round of awards, granting $80 million to 197 districts or community agencies for new clinics, renovations or equipment. The three Colorado awards will allow the Denver and Durango districts to serve more students and allow the Adams 14 school clinics to update their equipment and track patient data more effectively.

Deborah Costin, executive director of the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care, said the opportunity to get funding for capital projects at school-based clinics is “very rare.”

“There’s never been a lot of construction funding available,” she said.

Many school-based clinics operate in converted classrooms with makeshift walls or dividers.

“They’re pretty meager facilities,” Costin said. “This money has allowed the construction of more sophisticated facilities.”

All told, 11 awards were made to Colorado districts or agencies over the three rounds of the grant program, which began in 2010.

New construction in Denver

Of the recent awards, $500,000 will go to Denver Health, which partners with Denver Public Schools on school-based clinics, to pay for construction of a new clinic at Thomas Jefferson H.S. The clinic will serve about 700 students per year starting in August 2014. The clinic will have two exam rooms and office space for a mental health provider, a reproductive health counselor and an insurance outreach coordinator.

Dr. Steve Federico, director of school and community programs at Denver Health, said the new clinic will provide comprehensive primary care, including sports physicals, preventive care, vaccinations, mental health services and care for chronic conditions, such as asthma.

Once the clinic is open at Thomas Jefferson, there will be school-based health services available to all Denver Public School students in the southeast portion of the district, said Federico. An earlier $500,000 grant in the first round of the Affordable Care Act program funded construction of a school health clinic at Place Bridge Academy, which serves students at several schools in Southeast Denver.

Ultimately, Federico said the goal is for all DPS students to have access to school-based health services, either at the school they attend or a nearby school.

Increasing access in Durango

In Durango School District 9-R, the $485,000 capital grant will fund the construction of two additional exam rooms and a new external entrance at the existing health clinic at Durango High School. Currently, the 1,000-square-foot clinic has one exam room and some less private curtained exam areas.

In addition, patients must use the main school entrance to access the clinic, requiring them to check in at the main desk, get a visitors badge and walk through school hallways to the clinic. Julie Snider-Popp, district spokeswoman, said these steps create “a little bit of a barrier” to prospective patients, some of whom don’t attend Durango High.

The larger facility and new entrance will make it “more of a true walk-in clinic,” Snider-Popp said.

With the completion of the 2,000-square-foot expansion, the district will extend school-based health services to any student in La Plata County, including those in the Bayfield and Ignacio school districts as well as those who attend private or charter schools. Clinic staff expect to see patient numbers grow from the current 580 per year to 750 after the renovated clinic opens at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Eliminating paper files in Commerce City

In Adams 14, a $37,000 grant was awarded to Community Health Services, which runs the school clinics at Adams City Middle, Kearny Middle, Adams City High and Lester Arnold High, as well as two community clinics. The money will buy laptop computers, scanners and printers to convert paper patient files at all six clinics to electronic medical records.

“It’s going to be great for us,” said Amber Picinic, director of finance for Community Health Services.

Picinic said her agency has been seeking funds for the conversion to electronic medical records for at least three years. Currently, patient files of middle school students moving up to high school must be physically moved to the clinic at their new school. In addition, during summer and holiday breaks, the paper files are not always easily accessible if a student is being seen at one of the community health clinics.

Electronic patient files will also help clinic staff better track data on patient populations with chronic conditions such as asthma and obesity. Currently, color-coded paper files are the only way to distinguish which patients fall into these categories but staff members don’t have the time to pull all the files and examine them for trends.

Some of the grant funds will also be used to buy refrigeration equipment for vaccine storage, and a spirometer, which assesses lung function in asthma patients.

after parkland

‘We’re not kidding about this,’ says one teen leader of Memphis march on gun violence

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students in Indianapolis participate in the National School Walkout on March 14. This Saturday, students in the Memphis area will join a related March for Our Lives.

Memphis students were on spring break when this month’s national school walkout against gun violence happened, but 13-year-old Simran Bains is not going to miss her chance to publicly speak her mind.

PHOTO: Simran Bains
Eighth-grader Simran Bains is a student leader at Schilling Farms Middle School in Collierville.

An eighth-grader at Schilling Farms Middle School in Collierville, which is on the outskirts of Memphis, Simran is one of more than a dozen teenagers planning this Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Memphis.

She believes the student drive to protest gun violence following last month’s shooting of 17 people in Parkland, Florida, will not end anytime soon. Saturday’s march is part of a national movement organized by Parkland students to keep the conversation going about gun violence.

“I think this moment is different,” Simran said. “For every school shooting I can remember, it’s the same cycle. People are sad and shocked, but nothing ever changes.”

Students and other supporters will walk to the National Civil Rights Museum from Clayborn Temple, the historic assembling area for civil rights marches of the 1960s.

We spoke with Simran about what this march means to her and what she hopes Memphis learns from it. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

Why are you participating in Saturday’s march?

For me, I’ve always been a little louder than my peers. I’ve always been one to go on a tangent or two. When I heard about the march from a friend, it really stood out to me because it’s being organized by people my age. I have never seen people this young doing stuff like this. It was inspiring. There’s this perception in society that there’s a gun problem in America and that’s how the world will always be. But here, I’m seeing young people, who are the future of America, changing the world, and I wanted to be a part of that.

What message do you hope to send?

I hope people hear that even though we’re young, we’re not kidding about this, and we won’t back down. I want people in Shelby County to care more about this issue and listen to us. I hope people recognize that even if they have a right to protection, no one should have to fear for their life while receiving a public education. This is a serious issue. If we don’t do something, it only gets worse from here.

But I also hope we can broaden the conversation beyond school shootings. We have one of the highest gun homicide rates in the world, one of the highest suicide-by-gun rates in the world. We’re talking about people killing themselves, not just people killing people. Suicide and homicide aren’t often brought into this conversation. I hope that changes in Memphis.

I also want the march to remind us that we can’t become desensitized to gun violence. Whenever we read that someone was shot, we don’t always think how somebody just lost one of their own. That person will have to go home to empty bedrooms.

What specifically would you like to see happen in Tennessee?

I’m personally not one to advocate for the total removal of guns. I think that’s sometimes an assumption of people who are against protests like March for Our Lives. They assume we want to take all guns away. That’s not necessarily true. But I want a written exam to purchase a gun, like in Japan. I also want a longer wait time when you purchase a gun. I don’t think you should be able to walk into a gun shop and walk out the same day with a weapon. School shootings, or gun violence in general, can often be a spur-of-the-moment decision. What if the person had to wait a few days, weeks or months before they actually got that gun? Would they still feel the same way they did when they first went to buy the gun?

Have you or your family or your friends ever been personally touched by gun violence?

My family has never been a gun family. My parents are immigrants from India, and it’s just never been a thing for us. Going to school where I do, there’s a lot of political viewpoints. Some people are really pro owning guns, some are really against. And it’s an interesting place to talk about this. But also, I’ve gotten to know people from different backgrounds. I know people in Memphis and areas surrounding it who have lost someone to guns. I’ve known people who have lost loved ones to guns in homicides or gang violence.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”