Kensington Health Sciences Academy to open wellness center in the fall
When students return to Kensington Health Sciences Academy in September, they may be surprised to find a pharmacy in one of the old classrooms. It will be just one of many services and programs offered at the school as part of the new Health and Wellness Center that will open in the 2016-17 school year.
The wellness center will be a needed addition to the high school, said principal James Williams. According to Williams, Kensington Health Sciences Academy is located in one of the nation’s poorest congressional districts, and in a neighborhood that has a high number of reported cases of child sexual abuse. These conditions, Williams said, make it difficult for students to succeed academically because they can’t easily access the social and psychological services they need. So, instead, they have to miss school to try and handle things.
“When I look at the work I have to do in order to attempt to educate these kids, I’ve got to pull out all the stops, as far as I’m concerned,” Williams said.
In addition to a pharmacy, the center will include a health and wellness clinic, where students will receive annual physicals and risk assessments. The assessments will provide information, for example, about a student’s risk of getting involved in drug use or becoming pregnant. From these assessments, staff at the center will be able to point students to services that will best meet their needs.
“We’re the health sciences school,” said Bob Nelson, a guidance counselor at Kensington Health Sciences Academy.
“ One of [the clinic’s] goals will be to teach all students here in this school – with the other classes that are here – healthy choices so they can have a long, healthy life.”
The idea for the center – which will be housed in a converted classroom on the first floor of the high school – is the result of partnerships with CVS Health, St. Christopher’s Hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The center will cost $250,000, said Nelson, with funding being provided by CVS Health, the Mayor’s Office, and the School District of Philadelphia.
CVS partnered with Kensington Health Sciences Academy after extensive conversations and a vetting process of more than a year. Nelson said the partnership came about because CVS Health found that it shared with the school leadership a vision for educating students about living healthy lives and preparing them for the workforce.
“It’s the vision in how all of [those services and programs] directly relates to workforce development … turning a community that traditionally, for many generations now, have been recipients of tax dollars, turning them into taxpayers and successful people, and into a successful community,” Nelson said.
CVS has also offered Kensington Health Sciences Academy $150,000 a year to make the center “financially sustainable,” Williams said. In addition to funding, CVS will also provide Kensington students, who are already preparing for careers in the health sciences, with an unpaid internship, with the potential of being hired for a paid externship.
Staffing for the center will come from CVS, St. Christopher’s Hospital, the health-care provider for the center, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and School of Social Policy and Practice. Teachers and interns from the University of Pennsylvania will work as counselors in the center, providing students with behavioral and mental health services. The school nurse will also work in the center.
Kensington Health Sciences Academy has not officially been designated as a community school, which generally includes a family-service center for the neighborhood that provides access to primary care physicians, vision and dental services, and behavioral health and counseling supports. But with the new center, it will have elements of one.
“They’re really on the leading edge of this type of strategy for envisioning how schools can play a role in the community,” said Susan Gobreski, community schools director in the Mayor’s Office of Education.
Mayor Kenney, who has been a proponent of the community schools concept, plans to create 25 community schools over the next four years.
Though community schools are created to serve the entire community, the center at Kensington Health Sciences Academy will be open only to its students.
“We’re not necessarily focusing on the community needs [right now],” said Williams. “Our focus for our effort is what my students need.”
But the needs of the larger impoverished community are not lost on Williams and Nelson. There are plans to open a $10 million center in a vacant lot across the street from the school to provide the same types of services that will be offered at the school’s center. Williams and Nelson said that this would be a “community-based health center” that offers services and training to members of the community.
Isaiah Gonzalez, a senior and student in the dental program at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, said that he hopes the center will “bring awareness” to students about how to live a healthy life.
“I feel like a lot of students here, and not only that, just a lot of people, they … don’t know how to take care of their bodies and things like that,” Gonzalez said.
Hakeem Thompson, a junior in the dental program, said: “I think it will help a lot of kids out.”
As Williams walked through the hallways greeting students, he beamed as he talked about what the center will accomplish.
“We’re going to make a difference," he said, "one way or another.”