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School-based health center opens at Worcester East Middle School

WORCESTER – City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. had a tear in his eye Wednesday morning as he recalled meeting a first-grade girl at one of the city’s elementary schools. The girl had been caught stealing milk to bring home to her 4-year-old brother because her single mother worked as a prostitute, Mr. Augustus told the crowd at Worcester East Middle School.

But a similar episode may be less likely now, thanks to a new school-based health center opening at Worcester East Middle which seeks to provide physical and social emotional health resources to more than 800 students.

“We’re all in this together,” Mr. Augustus said. “Kids represent 25 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future.”

Mr. Augustus was joined Wednesday morning at the middle school on Grafton Street by a crowd including Marylou Sudders, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services; Frances Anthes, president and CEO of Family Health Center of Worcester, which will be running the center; Maura Mahoney, manager of social emotional learning in the Worcester public schools; and Superintendent of Schools Maureen Binienda, for the opening of the new school-based health center.

“Since our society has changed we need to do more than the three ’R’s,” Worcester East Middle Principal Rose Dawkins said.

This is the seventh school-based health center in Worcester that will be run by the Family Health Center of Worcester. The health center is part of the Worcester Healthy Environments And Resilience in Schools (HEARS) project to change school environments to help children thrive, and it will be staffed by a full-time nurse practitioner, medical coordinator, and behavioral health provider. Services will be available to all students at no cost to their families. Worcester East Middle has the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students, at 66.5 percent, among the district’s four middle schools, according to state data.

“We work together in partnership to make sure Worcester is the very best place to grow up, to be a kid and to have a good life,” said Ms. Anthes, who noted that last year the school-based health centers recorded 10,000 visits.

Attendees at the ceremony opening the health center stressed its collaborative nature, which is reflected in its funding. The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts provided nearly $250,000 toward the project, while the project received $50,000 from a city of Worcester Community Development Block Grant, $47,988 through MassDevelopment’s Community Health Center Program, and $30,000 from the Hoche-Schofield Foundation, Bank of America co-trustee.

The collaborative nature of the health center also is reflected, more importantly, in the care it provides – everything from annual physicals, to behavioral health services to ensuring that children are connected with appropriate social services.

“If kids come to school hungry, or not knowing where they are going to sleep tonight … if they come to school not prepared to learn, they can’t learn,” Ms. Sudders said.

Ms. Binienda said she thought “every district should have several school-based health centers.”

“I love school-based health centers,” she said. “Everybody works together for the benefit of the students.”


Cyrus Moulton

Worcester Telegram & Gazette