Health Services at Achievement Plus Schools in St. Paul, Minnesota

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By Lynnell Thiel

Director of Student and Family Support
Achievement Plus

Achievement Plus schools seek to improve student academic performance while developing and strengthening the surrounding community. The Achievement Plus Schools follow a standards-based curriculum, provide extended learning opportunities after school, and offer learning supports both at the schools and in the community. If children are to arrive in their classrooms ready to learn, they must be healthy. However, lack of access to health and dental care is often a huge barrier for our students and families. As part of Achievement Plus’ array of learning supports, we offer on-site dental and medical care.

Each Achievement Plus school has a dental clinic operated by Children’s Dental Services, one of our community partners. Children’s Dental Services provides routine oral examinations, oral hygiene, sealants and dental restorative services to children and pregnant women. They also conduct a dental screening for all students. This screening identifies students with urgent needs, and the parents of these students are then contacted and offered dental care for their children. This program allows children to see the dentist and be back in their classroom in 30 minutes, with the result that students have more academic time on task. After school hours, the dental clinic becomes a community clinic for other children from the community.

St. Mary’s Health Clinic, operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, provides free health care services at John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School two half-days per week, year-round. Licensed doctors and nurses volunteer their services at the clinic, which serves community members who do not have health insurance. Services include physical examinations, lab tests, x-rays, diagnostic tests. Most medications can also be prescribed free of charge. The physicians make specialty referrals through a large network of area health care providers, who have agreed to see St. Mary’s patients for free.

In addition to the physicians and nurses at the clinic, volunteers serve as receptionists and interpreters for those who may not speak English. Having the services of interpreters available in a community that is home to many people from diverse backgrounds is a huge advantage.

The purpose of the clinic is to serve low-income families and community members who cannot afford medical insurance, so that they may have access to needed medical services. During these difficult economic times, the work of St. Mary’s clinic has become increasingly essential for our community.

In addition to on-site health services, our Family Resource Centers help families access health insurance. Often times, families are eligible, but they may need assistance or guidance with the paperwork or translations.

The building at Johnson Elementary is designed to support partnerships, and the community services are located on a different floor from the classrooms. Also, the clinic is very close to the entrance, so people don’t have to walk through the building to get to it. The Achievement Plus model has always included community access to services; therefore, concerns about the clinic were minimal. As with all schools, security is a constant concern and we are always trying to make improvements, but in the six years the clinic has been in operation there has not been even one a serious security incident.

During the 2009-2010 school year, 608 children received services at Achievement Plus school-based clinics. And from September 2009 to May 20, 2010, 307 patients were seen at the community clinic located at Johnson Elementary. These services are definitely filling a health gap not only for many of St. Paul’s students but for underserved residents as well.