Healthier kids miss less school and perform better in classes. This premise makes common sense, and is backed up by substantial research. According to data from Missouri Kids Count, St. Louis City ranks 115th out of 115 Missouri counties for child wellbeing, which measures health, access to care, food security and community safety. “Saint Louis Public School’s’ primary mission is to educate our students,” says Superintendent Dr. Kelvin R. Adams, “but we know they need to be healthy to learn. Partnerships with health care providers are critical and help us address the whole student.” This past year, the region’s largest healthcare provider, BJC, and the region’s largest school district, Saint Louis Public Schools, joined forces on a new endeavor: Healthy Minds/Healthy Kids. The project is expanding an already strong partnership with BJC and St. Louis Children’s Hospital to include embedded nurses and behavioral health specialists at four elementary schools. “Healthy habits start young,” says Joan Magruder, President of St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “That’s why it’s so important to give kids the tools they need now to prevent disease and live healthy lives into adulthood. We’re so proud of this partnership and how it helps further our mission to do what’s right for kids.”
The five-year pilot program will supplement onsite school nursing and enhance behavioral health services for four district elementary schools: Hodgen, Lexington, Laclede, and Woodward.
In Fall 2017, full-time BJC nurses started at the four participating elementary schools. In the past, SLPS had rotating nurses at these schools, but did not have the resources to support full-time providers. “We are already seeing a difference,” commented Mr. Brandon Murray, Principal of Hodgen Elementary. “We have so many students struggling with asthma and our nurse has been able to teach students and families to manage this issue.” The nurses provide holistic health care and health education, and school nurse services such as medication management, immunization compliance, first aid, screenings, care plan development and implementation.
When working with the schools to identify biggest health priorities, BJC consultants engaged staff, family and educators in a range of planning exercises including one-on-one interviews, group conversations with staff, and brainstorming at family nights. At all of the schools, groups prioritized mental health needs as the most pressing need.
In January 2018, a full-time licensed behavioral health provider started working at each school. With parental consent, behavioral health providers will be able to work with students through individual and group counseling, and inform school teachers and staff on how best to support students’ behavioral health needs. This model of care and treatment will best support students who may be struggling with multiple forms of trauma that are impacting their classroom participation.
Additionally, each school is participating in trauma informed training. All staff participate in initial training and ongoing support so that the adults in each school building are prepared to mitigate the effects of trauma and address the mental health needs of students. The training encourages teachers and administrators to use new skills and awareness to support all students, but is particularly important for those students who are in need of a more intensive level of care.
Each quarter, the SLPS Foundation brings together leaders from the schools and St. Louis Children’s Hospital administrators to troubleshoot and learn. Ultimately, the effort is designed to improve students’ academic outcomes and reduce behavioral/discipline incidents. “This is a significant undertaking and requires a deep level of trust between the school staff, Children’s Hospital staff and families,” explains SLPS Foundation President Jane Donahue, “but we see enormous potential. At its best, it reflects true regional cooperation and a shared commitment to doing what’s best for kids.”