Na’Sean Williams-Wilson is bubbling over with enthusiasm to share the details of his eventful summer. Before class, he swings by the school-based wellness center at Howard High School of Technology, where he is a junior.
Na’Sean has big smiles and friendly banter for Pequoia Evans at the front desk and then catches up with senior social worker Karen Spring, MSS, LCSW, coordinator at the school’s wellness center.
The 17-year-old, a fan of hip-hop, poetry and dressing to impress, is looking forward to a career in finance.
It’s a new day for Na’Sean
ChristianaCare opened its first wellness center at William Penn High School in 1994 and now serves students in 20 schools in New Castle County, Delaware.
Last year, he went through a dark time after a relationship. Regular visits with Spring slowly let the light back in.
“With each visit, a piece of how I felt would disappear,” he said.
He said the counseling has paid off in the classroom, too, helping him build better relationships with his teachers and better manage his time.
ChristianaCare’s 20 school-based wellness centers offer Na’Sean and thousands of other students in New Castle County, Delaware, the highest quality care right where they need it most.
Reading, writing and wellness
The centers offer immunizations, rapid strep throat tests and other screenings, annual check-ups, sports physicals and health education — setting children on the path to lifelong wellness.
Having ChristianaCare nurse practitioners, social workers, dietitians and doctors on site means students miss fewer days of school and parents and guardians don’t need to take time off work for appointments.
“We know parents want the best care for their children but face so many barriers, including transportation and taking time off work,” said Cydney Teal, M.D., chair of Family and Community Medicine.
“Our health centers deliver the whole-person care that our children need to learn while seamlessly integrating it into their school day.”
Coming out of her shell
Michelle Lloyd is relishing the transformation she’s witnessed in her 10-year-old daughter, Niemah Beecham. The third grader is growing more resilient day by day.
Lloyd credits part of that growth to the school-based health center at Niemah’s Wilmington school, Warner Elementary. There, Niemah has developed the sort of trusting relationships that have coaxed her out of her shell.
“She’s talking to people where she wasn’t before,” Lloyd said. Her daughter’s emotional temperature is no afterthought to Lloyd; she knows that before her daughter can learn, she has to feel safe and confident.
In order to reach children at younger ages, ChristianaCare last year opened its first wellness center in an elementary school, Warner. Its second elementary school center, at Shortlidge Academy, opened this fall.
“The sooner you start to address children’s mental and physical needs, the more successful they will be,” said Dr. Teal.
A prescription for success
By partnering with school nurses and students’ family doctors, the wellness centers help children navigate everyday health struggles like sore throats and upset stomachs as well as weighty emotional issues, like those stemming from trauma.
Spring said it’s not unusual for students to come to school carrying the burden of witnessing or suffering traumatic events. Many of these students don’t see their experiences as remarkable — they may talk about the violent death of a friend in a way that seems casual — but they carry the consequences with them.
They may act out in class as an element of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the effects of trauma can be subtle, too. A student could have aches and pains with no obvious cause.
In-school access to health care may mean the difference between catching a child’s mental and physical issues early or waiting for years as the consequences mount, said Warner Elementary Principal Terrance Newton.
With compassion and care that students find in the ChristianaCare wellness centers, they are finding the support and the courage to overcome those barriers.
“The relationships they form with caregivers in our wellness center help to make them more comfortable and meet their social-emotional needs,” said Newton.
Niemah goes to the Warner health center occasionally to read with social worker Marie Miller, LCSW. In this warm, safe setting, she’s also building health literacy — learning the role of her immune system in fever. Her mom enjoys the convenience of in-school doctor’s visits, and she sees the health effects on her daughter in larger terms, too.
“She’s a lot calmer, more resilient.”