A branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Alexandria City Public Schools a $381,000 grant.
The funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration will help ACPS start a mobile health unit that will provide primary health, basic dental and mental health services to students in the William Ramsay, John Adams and Patrick Henry elementary school communities.
The funding is part of $80 million made available through the Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010. Part of the legislation's aim is improving access to primary, mental and oral health care for school-aged children.
The grants are premised on data that show better access to health care reduces the number of school days kids miss, as well as costly and often unnecessary emergency room visits, according to a news release from ACPS. In addition, they help children with chronic illnesses attend school and provide screenings and health-promoting activities for all students.
ACPS is one of only two locations in Virginia to receive this funding. HRSA awarded grants to 197 applicants, which included school districts, nonprofits and medical service providers around the country. The mobile health unit that ACPS will operate will join the 1,800 school-based health centers that currently serve more than 1.8 million children.
"This is an investment in creating an exceptional learning environment and educating the whole child," said ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman in a statement. "We know that children whose physical, social and emotional needs are met are much better learners and perform better throughout their educational careers."
William Ramsay, Patrick Henry and John Adams serve a combined 2,235 students. Of John Adams's 820 students, about 65 percent are economically disadvantaged, 17 percent are students with disabilities and 33 percent are English language learners. Seventy-five percent of Patrick Henry's 586 students are economically disadvantaged, 10 percent are students with disabilities and 34 percent are learning English. Ramsay serves 829 students, 86 percent are economically disadvantaged, 8 percent have disabilities and 52 percent are English language learners.
"I know first-hand the health needs of students in these communities, and I witness daily how a little extra care can mean the difference between succeeding and failing academically," said ACPS Health Services Coordinator Robin Wallin. "So we are very excited about this new opportunity."
The next step involves ACPS working with community partners to develop a planning committee and identify service providers for the mobile health project. Administrators expect the unit could roll out as early as the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.