L.A. school's health effort should expand: Guest commentary | The Daily News

Schools have long served as trusted and safe places for community and families to gather. In addition to being places where parents entrust their children for education, schools have inherent connections to communities as parent centers, polling places, and venues for town halls and other gatherings.

The creation of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Wellness Network in 2009 was sensible and bold. Fourteen full-service medical clinics offering holistic, comprehensive and integrated services — including physical, mental, oral and preventive health services — were to be built on or around school campuses by an approved bond measure appropriating $34 million in joint-use funds for the creation of these new access points of care.

Twelve new facilities have recently been completed and are serving students and community members on LAUSD campuses across the district in medically underserved areas where the needs are greatest. The last two will open at Monroe and Crenshaw high schools this fall. To date, over 20,000 patients have been seen and treated, 46 percent of whom are students. Because the Wellness Centers are located in the county’s health hot spots, families who are most vulnerable have access to care they did not have before.

Although these Wellness Centers are already showing promising results, we cannot stop here.

In 2014, expanding LAUSD’s network of Wellness Centers is even more imperative. The Affordable Care Act changes how, where and to whom health care services are delivered. The establishment of primary medical homes, particularly for the newly insured, enables school-based Wellness Centers to be essential providers.

Priorities are shifting inside LAUSD as well. Targets for student achievement are more focused on school climate and pupil engagement due to the requirements of the new state Local Control Funding Formula. LAUSD’s further investment in Wellness Centers will support and strengthen the vital connection between health and academic success. Specifically, facilitating and promoting student wellness proactively strengthens students’ physical, mental and social well-being as well as their overall academic achievement, bringing us closer to reaching our target of 100 percent graduation.

We know that students who don’t feel well struggle to learn. Many have limited, if any, access to health care services. Access to preventive and early intervention medical services can be game changers, particularly for our student population of 650,000, as 52,000 suffer with dental pain, 260,000 have been exposed to traumatic or violent events that qualify as post-traumatic stress disorder, 65,000 are asthmatic, 150,000 will contract a sexually transmitted disease and 260,000 struggle with obesity.

We know that prevention and early intervention are cost-effective. Parents and families save valuable time as school-based Wellness Centers reduce “days off of work” and “missed days of school” for our kids. Our teachers benefit as well since having a Wellness Center on campus allows them to focus on teaching while trained health professionals address the health challenges that can impact learning in an educator’s classroom.

By doubling down on the previous investment in school-based Wellness Centers, LAUSD is faced with an opportunity to redefine the way we regard, educate and ultimately prepare our students for adulthood. And for the sake of them, their families and communities, we have a responsibility to lead the way.

Expansion of LAUSD’s network of Wellness Centers will be up for a board vote Tuesday. Urge your representative to vote yes.

Monica Garcia is a Los Angeles Unified School District board member. Beatriz Maria Solis is a director of Healthy Communities, South Region, with the California Endowment. Maria Brenes is executive director of the nonprofit InnerCity Struggle.

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