Blue Ridge health clinic helps improve education

The new clinic at Blue Ridge, and the older clinic at Lincoln High School, help reduce absences and promote better health.

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Public schools basic goal is to educate students. But that basic task is far from simple. A great many things complicate the mission, including obstacles such as language barriers, access to transportation and health concerns students and their families must overcome.

Given that, school officials must consider ways to mitigate those obstacles to put students in a better position to learn.

In Walla Walla, in-school health clinics have been established. The first was at Lincoln High School in 2009. And recently a clinic was established at Blue Ridge Elementary School.

The new health center is located inside the school but is not staffed or funded by the school district. Both facilities are funded through grants and donations and are operated by The Health Center, a nonprofit agency overseen by its executive director, Holly Howard.

The focus of the Blue Ridge clinic is to provide young children with basic health needs that can be easily accessed. This should result in children missing fewer days of school from illness, either by helping to prevent something serious from occurring or parents taking children out of school for long periods of time for trips to the doctor.

The Health Center at Lincoln has been a boon for studetns with mental health concerns. Counseling has helped students and has led to reduced truancy.

The Blue Ridge center will face different mental and emotional issues, but there will be access to help.

Blue Ridge Principal Kim Doepker is a supporter of The Health Center at Blue Ridge. She said she sees potential for it to help children learn more effectively. Two years ago, she said, Blue Ridge had the highest rate of absences out of the district's six elementary schools.

"You cannot learn if you are not healthy and those primary needs are not met," Doepker said.

Parental permission is needed before any child can receive care at the clinic. If a child needs more medical attention than the basics that are provided at the center, the staff coordinate future appointments with the child's primary care physician or help establish a primary care physician.

The Blue Ridge center is open to about 500 children -- the students at Blue Ridge as well as the younger children in the Head Start/ECEAP public preschool program.

This new health clinic at Blue Ridge and the older one at Lincoln are important tools in improving education and helping children.

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