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Wellness Centers: The New Trend in School-Based Health

Each year, California’s children miss an estimated 847,000 days of school because of dental problems alone[1]. Health advocates argue that student’s absentee rates could be significantly reduced if they did not have to leave campus for medical appointments.  But there is a solution; school-based health centers (SBHCs) are quickly becoming the new trend in community health care. The Affordable Care Act provides $200 million in grant opportunity funding from 2010-2013 for the School-Based Health Center Capital Program to improve delivery and support expansion of services at school-based health centers. Students with poor health status show poorer academic performance than students with good health[2]. Thus, health and education are integrally linked. Due to this newfound knowledge, SBHCs have become a focal point for the improvement of children’s health, especially in underserved communities with poor health outcomes and high rates of disparities.

Focusing on prevention and early intervention, SBHCs help mitigate children’s health issues that go untreated and keep them out of school. There are currently about 60 SBHCs in Los Angeles County helping overcome the hurdles faced by many parents in acquiring the proper treatment for their children. Parents have listed common difficulties such as: lack of insurance, inability to pay for services, difficulty in taking time off from work, and transportation barriers. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Los Angeles Trust for Children’s Health (L.A. Trust) released an article in the LAUSD Journal describing the 13 new and improved Wellness Centers scheduled to open on campuses throughout the upcoming summer and fall to help families combat these obstacles.

The L.A. Trust, an independent nonprofit organization created by LAUSD, has worked in tandem with LAUSD Facilities, Student Health and Human Services and community clinic partners to develop the new Wellness Centers.   These centers are the “next generation” of SBHCs – as they aim to provide a more robust support system for all students, their families, and the community at large[3].  The Centers will offer preventive physical, mental, and oral health care, and they will leverage partnerships with parent centers, promotora programs, student leadership councils, small learning communities, afterschool programs, and social services to improve community.  Exercise and nutrition programs, sexual health education for students and parents, and career pathway programs are all core components.

Maryjane Puffer, Executive Director of the L.A. Trust, states, “Students and parents are often burdened with the academic impact of health issues like asthma, diabetes, a toothache, or obesity. When these issues are left untreated not only do they affect the student’s health but it keeps the child away from learning, sometimes for days. This year the Wellness Centers will help target those concerns and reach a larger number of students and families.”  Supported by funding from LA Health Action, the L.A. Trust led three dynamic Learning Symposia, bringing school and clinic leadership together to formalize mutual goals and operations for the Wellness Center this year and will continue convening partners through the next phase of implementation.

The Wellness Centers will be placed in high priority geographic areas in and around:


  • Belmont High School (HS)
  • Carson HS
  • Crenshaw HS
  • Fremont HS
  • Garfield HS
  • Gage MS
  • Hollywood HS
  • Jefferson HS
  • Jordan HS
  • Locke Early Education Center
  • Manual Arts HS
  • Monroe HS
  • Washington Preparatory HS


With joint-use facilities bond funds totaling $29 million approved by LAUSD Board of Education, these Wellness Centers will target decreasing student absenteeism related to illness by 2015. In a California Watch article on SBHCs, Serena Clayton, executive director of the California School Health Centers Association said, “What we would really like to see is that school health centers become part of how health care is delivered to kids, so when you think of schools, you think of the library, the gym, and the health care center.” Although the continual funding of these provisions is paramount, together these goals present a promising future for the children of California.

[1] Nadereh Pourat and Gina Nicholson, “Unaffordable Dental Care is Linked to Frequent School Absences” UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, November 2009.

[2] Mayra Ramirez, “Clinics Set Out to Lower Illness Related Absenteeism at Schools” LAUSD Journal, April 19, 2012, Web.

[3] Ibid.

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