Latino research project finds strengths, weaknesses in local programs

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WALLA WALLA — Staff and students at Lincoln High School know its health center has helped improve student morale and well-being, while increasing academic performance.

But despite its successes, the center struggles for funding, relying on grants and donations to keep operating. That’s a problem Whitman College students hoped to help address through community-based research.

Students enrolled in Professor Paul Apostolidis’ State of the State for Washington Latinos class spent fall semester studying programs and issues which affect Latinos around the state and in Walla Walla, including the Alternative Education Program at Walla Walla Community College, and ways the INK-OUT tattoo removal program could better help former gang members.

“All of these projects end up focusing on one basic issue ... What can we as a community do to help young people who are struggling?” said Apostolidis.

The class on Monday evening presented results of its research to a group of community stakeholders, who included representatives from partner organizations, state Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) and Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner.

Students from four of the class’s six research teams provided background information about the questions they were asking, discussed their methodology and shared findings and recommendations.

The group studying school-based health centers like Lincoln’s said that over 90 percent of Washington’s minors are insured, but that doesn’t guarantee they actually receive health care.

School-based health centers, which provide preventive care and mental health services, provide an effective avenue toward treating young people. But Washington state has no established legal status for these clinics, making it impossible for them to receive Medicaid reimbursement or other insurance payments for the services they provide, according to the students’ research.

The group suggested the Legislature could take action to recognize these health centers and consider providing funding, something Walsh said she intends to look at.

“This is the time to really make this proposal,” she said, because of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. She said she would look at how other states fund or otherwise support school-based health centers.

Whitman senior Bella Zarate, whose group did a case-study looking at why the Alternative Education Program at Walla Walla Community College is effective, said she enjoyed being part of research that engaged other people and let them tell their own stories.

“This entire process has been really reflective of the perspectives of multiple people, and I think the work that we end up producing is better informed,” she said.

State of the State students have also presented some of their results in front of the Walla Walla School Board, and took a trip to Olympia in February to meet with legislators. The rest of their semester will be spent on outreach and advocacy efforts, and each group will have reports available by the end of April on the class’s website, walatinos.org.

Apostolidis said this focus on sharing results set Whitman apart from many other institutions, where community-based research rarely happens, or findings are only shared with partner organizations.

“A lot of the work gets done when you get together with people who are real actors,” he explained.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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