School-based health center in Pawcatuck wins state funding

Stonington - The school system plans to establish a school-based health center at Pawcatuck Middle School in January, thanks to a state grant that will cover the entire cost of the program.

The grant will pay for a nurse practitioner and social worker from Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut to be based at the school in a room next to the existing nurse's office. The nurse will remain at the school.

The General Assembly, which only approved two new school-based health centers in the last session, has appropriated $61,000 for the last half of the 2012-13 school year. There will be an annual allocation of $120,000 in coming years.

Director of Special Services Virginia Brown said Tuesday that having the health center in the school will help reduce absenteeism and tardiness and result in increased student achievement. It will also connect students and their families with other services such as that of a psychiatrist that can be provided by the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut.

She said the school system decided to seek the funding after identifying the need for more help for students' behavioral and emotional needs without affecting the school budget as one of the significant challenges facing the school district.

While school-based health centers are located regionally in New London and Groton, it may come as a surprise to some that Stonington has qualified for the funding.

But Brown said the Pawcatuck section of town has been particularly hard hit by the recession.

She thanked State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, and State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, for gaining legislative approval for the health center last week as well as the town's Human Services Department for providing the data to prove the center was needed at Pawcatuck Middle School.

"This a huge win for the community," she said.

Brown said the social worker may also spend one day a week at West Broad Street and West Vine Street schools and will be available if needed for students at the town's other schools.

All students can use the school-based health center, but their parents must sign a permission form for the students to receive services.

Urban, who is co-chairman of the legislature's Children's Committee, said in a statement that data will be collected about the results of the health center and will be included in the Statewide Children's Report Card, which tracks the success of our programs that support children and families.

That ties in with Urban's long-running effort to force state officials to make sure that all programs funded by the state produce data that show they are successful in order to be funded.

"Stonington's Public Schools are indebted to the advocacy of Representative Urban and Senator Maynard on behalf of the youth of our community," said Leanne Masterjoseph, superintendent of Stonington Schools, in a statement. "The services provided by a School Based Health Center will directly advance our efforts to increase overall wellness and student achievement. We are over-the-moon with excitement about this otherwise unattainable level of support for our children!"

j.wojtas@theday.com

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