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Written by:  Odile Fredericks
Date: February 14, 2012

If your child attends a Wake County public school, you probably know that school nurses are scarce. But did you know that the ratio of school nurses to students was 1 nurse for every 2,715 students in Wake County for the 2010-2011 school year? That's three times the ratio of 1 nurse for every 750 students recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, a group of Wake County students with Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) aims to help some of the most needy students gain access to health services close to school. YES! is a statewide nonprofit whose mission is to empower students, in partnership with adults, to create community change. After researching the health care issue in Wake County schools, YES! students have come up with a plan, and this month, they're gathering petitions to push for a school-based health center. As of early February, the students had gathered 2,000 signatures for their petition. Get details on their May 19, 2012, rally in Raleigh in support of the center here.

In a recent interview, they spoke with passion about the need for a health care center. The way they see it, health is directly tied into a student's success at school, and Wake's nearly 20 percent dropout rate reveals the need for health care.

Doug Pluta, a student with YES! who attends Enloe High School, says school-based health centers are vital because they provide so many different services—such as physical examinations, lab tests, mental health services, immunizations and nutritional assessments—which students who are uninsured or on Medicaid need but couldn't get otherwise. He said he got involved with the YES! project because he knows that the classroom dynamic changes when students are out due to illness. "If you have a full classroom of students, you have many different people bouncing their ideas off of each other, and it promotes a healthier, more exciting learning environment," he said.

Shaquita Williams, a student with YES! at Knightdale High School, said having a center close to school just makes sense for students. When she is sick and has to travel to the doctor, she must make up lost class time. "Personally, why I got involved in school-based health centers is because I can relate," she said. "I get sick very easily. That ends up with me having to make up work and ... it sets me back. If I had a school-based health center, then I could stay on campus and get my work done while getting the treatment that I need," Williams said.

Dynasty Williams, a Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School student and a YES! member, agrees. She takes AP classes, so missing even a few minutes of those classes due to illness puts her far behind, she said. Plus, when she gets sick, her mother also suffers. "My mom she has to leave work and come and get me from school to take me to my doctor," she said. "Not only is that a burden to me because I have to make up my work, but it is a burden to her because she has to leave her job and come and pick me up."

The YES! students say they envision a center in an area that could serve many students who do not currently have access to health care. According to their research, south Raleigh or southeast Raleigh is a target. Federal funding of up to $500,000 exists for such a center through the Affordable Care Act, which allocates money to school-based health centers to be safety net providers. The students also hope to bring together strategic partners in Wake County's health care community to pitch in with funding, said Parrish Ravelli, an adult who leads the team of YES! students researching the access to health care issue.

Ravelli said the group has already begun working to attract some of the players in the health care community and to sell them on the idea that the center is the most effective way to reach adolescents who need their services. After surveying parents and other community members about the center, the students plan to present their concept to the Wake County Board of Education. They're also planning May 19 rally at the Wake County Commons Building, located at 4011 Carya Drive, in Raleigh, for the public to learn about the benefits of school-based health centers.

"Really, what we envision as a perfect marriage in this situation is if the school system would be willing to provide space [for the center]—not actual dollars," Ravelli said. "Then, we believe that not only could we work with the health care community to cover the ongoing costs, but we could even look at the federal grant that is coming down... We also hope to be writing for the federal school-based health center grant this summer, which could bring in up to $500,000."

Ravelli says North Carolina has a strong network of 50 school-based or school-linked health centers, but none exists in Wake County. He said ideally, the center would have a family nurse practitioner, rather than an adolescent health nurse in the center, so that adults, such as school staff, could gain access as well as students.

"A lot of people think of school and health as two different areas of life when we know that, no matter how good a school or school system is, if a student isn't healthy and emotionally equipped and safe, they're not going to learn," Ravelli said. "Really, what we're talking about is building a bridge between the health care and the educational community."

Updated May 9, 2012



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