As students at Jennings Senior High return for classes, a new school-based health clinic is scheduled to open in the coming weeks. It’s affiliated with “The SPOT,” an existing youth center in St. Louis that offers medical care, counseling and a safe space to stay and do homework.
In the new space at Jennings Senior High, coordinator Chardial Samuel walks through the nearly-finished rooms with a sense of excitement.
“What we’re hearing [is] the greatest needs are sports physicals and immunizations,” Samuel said. “How many of the youth will need some type of medical care, we don’t know. But I think we’ll work it out.”
The SPOT at Jennings will be a resource for high school students who don’t have a primary care provider, Samuel said. About 600 students attend the school in total. The SPOT plans to start taking appointments once a week in September, and will expand as the need grows and funding becomes available.
“You look at the rates of crime, poverty, teenage pregnancy … we hope we can provide other opportunities. Hence the name, Supporting Positive Opportunities for Teens,” said Samuel.
Back in 2008, when a team of counselors and medical professionals started The SPOT in the Central West End of St. Louis, they realized that many of the young people who arrived came from the area code 63136, which includes the Jennings district. Having a school-based clinic will cut down on travel time for those students and reach even more of their peers.
Needs in this district are high. Last year, 85 percent of students at Jennings High qualified for free and reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty. This year, student poverty levels rose to above 90 percent district-wide, so the district will begin providing free lunches to all students, according to Jennings superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson.
Jennings administrators say that many of their students do not have access to a primary care provider outside of school, which can become an issue when students have chronic conditions like asthma, or if they need immunizations or athletic physicals.
The new space at Jennings began offering mental health counseling and case management in the spring, and has already seen a high degree of interest.
“The consistent theme is trauma. It may be in the home, it may be in their environment. They’re having issues dealing with that and managing it in a way that they can function,” said Rochelle Moore, who does case management for the students.
“I always want the students, the parents and the staff to know, if you see a youth in trouble or have some kind of concern, send them our way. We will figure it out,” Moore said.
The Jennings School District paid to revamp the space itself. Grants from private donors, Washington University and the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund are paying for staff time and operational costs. Coordinators hope to expand the clinic’s services to be available to the community as well as the students.
It’s part of an overall effort by superintendent Anderson to integrate health and wellness services into the district’s schools. Since she took her job in 2012, Anderson has hired in-school social workers, a pediatrician who visits each school and a food pantry for students and their families. These are all resources that must be in place to “move the academic needle in a high poverty school,” Anderson said. And, she added, it's paying off: Jennings met 78 percent of state accreditation standards in 2014. In 2012, they only met 57 percent.
“You meet the basic needs of people. You first seek to understand their needs, and then we meet those. That’s how to close the opportunity gap,” Anderson said.
For more health and science news from St. Louis, follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.