CAMDEN, N.J. — According to recent reports, 14 percent of children in the New Jersey live below the federal poverty level. Many impoverished children experience health issues such as malnutrition and insufficient healthcare, which can lead to increases in school absences, tardiness, incidents of illness during class, and untreated health problems.
To help alleviate the problem, KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy (KCNA) — a collective of three KIPP schools in Camden — partnered with the Camden Promise Neighborhood, the Cooper Foundation, and other local entities, including local dentists, foodbanks, and nonprofits to create Cooper Health Center at KIPP, a school-based health center with a full-time nurse practitioner and medical assistant.
The health center began in September, 2018, as the Cooper University Health Care school based health clinic at KIPP Lanning Square according to Joe Hejlek, Director of Wraparound Services at KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.
“In the one full year that it has been open, it has seen almost 500 students and had approximately 900 total visits,” Hejlek said in an email.
Hejlek also said that more immediate interventions for medical conditions along with Spanish speaking staff, the program benefit the students and their families.
“Of particular note, the clinic has prevented several trips to the emergency room from students who were having asthma attacks,” Hejlek said. “And having a Spanish-speaking medical assistant has been a major benefit for Spanish-speaking families, who often have a difficult time navigating traditional health settings.”
The clinic — which provides on-site dental services, food resources for students and families, and other services — serves the students from the three KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy schools — KIPP Lanning Square Primary, KIPP Lanning Square Middle, and KIPP Whittier Middle — as well as the Center for Family Services two Head Start programs in Camden, and the U.S. Wiggins College Preparatory Lab Family School.
Funding for the clinic is by the Camden Promise Neighborhood, a grantee of the federal Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods program that provides a comprehensive range of services for children and families in the Camden Promise Neighborhood. Center for Family Services is also a grantee.
However, grant funding did not cover construction and fit-out costs for the development of the necessary health clinic space, according to Hejlek.
“So Cooper Hospital provided for the construction and the expense to complete that work,” he said.
Families favor the convenience and accessibility of the health clinic, as well as the quality of care that they receive.
“It is convenient. I don’t have to take them out of school so they’re not missing learning time,” one parent said.
Gracious Smiles dentists provide weekly on-site dental services at all KCNA schools which helps address a significant source of absenteeism among their students.
According to Hejlek, the immediate accessibility to healthcare resources can not only save lives, but is a great way to overcome obstacles that impede students’ academic success.
“When students get sick or hurt at school, the health clinic is often able to see them without their parents and then either treat them immediately or send them back to class – which is of great value to parents who cannot miss work or who do not have reliable transportation,” Hejlek said.
“Antonio had asthma attack one day,” another parent explained. “He got treated immediately and stayed at school – in the past, we would have had to take him to the ER.”
The clinic is staffed by Cooper University Health Care staff that includes a full-time nurse practitioner and a full-time medical assistant, who provide a full range of pediatric health services. It is open every day that the school building is open and throughout the summer to provide services year round.