MANSFIELD — Principal Tom Hager of Malabar Intermediate knows it's hard for students to learn when their families are facing challenges outside the classroom. Issues with housing and health care access can impact a child's attendance and performance.
Fortunately, there are in-school resources available to help.
Community health workers (CHW) from Third Street Family Health Services are onsite daily to connect students and families to local resources free of charge. The CHWs are employed by Malabar Care Connect, a school-based health center operated by Third Street.
“Our goal is to help the kids succeed at school,” said Javar Jackson, chief operations officer at Third Street.
“When we dig a little deeper, kids are struggling. Sometimes they're homeless or they have a food shortage," Jackson said. "As community health workers, we're that bridge between our clients and resources in the community.”
Malabar Care Connect (MCC) opened in November 2019 to serve the students, staff and families at Malabar Intermediate school. The clinic’s initial funding came from a four-year, $600,000 state School Quality Improvement Grant.
Students can see a community health worker or a nurse practitioner, depending on their needs.
According to Jackson, 602 people received services at Malabar Care Connect in 2021. The clinic is most commonly used for well child check-ups, sports physicals, sick visits and behavioral health services.
“It was a hit when we did COVID vaccines, all the teachers got it, people brought their parents in,” recalled Amanda Elliot, a CHW at Malabar Care Connect.
Many of the students seen by the clinic don't have a primary care provider or regular dentist appointments. Once parents sign a consent form, their student can visit the clinic whenever needed.
Elliot said she enjoys being a "problem solver" for families.
"I can go get a student from class and I can bring them (to the clinic), so that's been really convenient for the parents," she said.
More than 200 Malabar families have signed up so far, representing about one-third of the school's total population.
Hager believes the clinic has helped increase trust between the school and the community, but building that trust is an ongoing process.
"That's probably the one challenge we've had is getting more parents signed on with our clinic," he said.
Nevertheless, he believes the partnership has benefitted students physically and academically.
"If we can get the kid healthier and attending school on a more regular basis, then we're helping kids and if we're helping kids, we're helping families," Hager said. "The more resources we can provide to families, hopefully that'll increase (students') attendance in school and their academics."
Starting next fall, the Malabar Care Connect program will expand its reach so that students, staff and families from all Mansfield City Schools will be able to receive services, thanks to a $772,464.81 contract with the Ohio Department of Health.
In addition to widening eligibility, the contract with the Ohio Department of Health allows MCC to upgrade its space.
Mansfield City Schools will add an exterior door to the clinic later this fall so visitors can enter without going through the Malabar school building. Telehealth visits will be available for students at the middle and high school.
In addition, the clinic will add a portable dental services unit that can be used inside MCC and transported to other Mansfield City Schools. Jackson said the goal is to have the unit at each district school at least once per quarter.
“Once we build sustainability, we may discuss having on-site continued dental services,” he said.
Other uses for the grant include expanding the clinic staff. MCC currently has a nurse practitioner and two community health workers. The contract will allow Third Street to add four full-time employees. Those employees may be medical, dental or behavioral health workers, as well as a front desk worker.
Third Street plans to conduct surveys and possibly a focus group to determine which services are most needed and wanted in the community.
“The social determinants of health perspective requires us to learn about our stakeholders and then be able to use that to inform future planning," Jackson said. "What is it they need? What would they like to see at the health center?"