Officials Explore Partnership to Bring School Health Center to Stonington High | Stoneton

STONINGTON – District administrators and leadership with the Southeast Connecticut Children and Family Agency are exploring an expanded partnership that would bring a school health clinic to Stonington High School.

With a new legislative session underway, officials hope the Children and Family Agency will be able to secure the funds needed to establish a high school health center that provides a continuation of services already available to students in the high school. Stonington Middle School, head of CFA Executive Officer Allison Blake said.

“We have had a very strong partnership with the Stonington School District and there is a need to expand the connections available to students as they transition from middle school to high school,” Blake said Tuesday.

“If you don’t have one in high school, as students progress, they could potentially lose access to those support services they have become accustomed to,” she continued.

Blake and Stonington Schools superintendent Mary Anne Butler both cautioned that discussions remain in the exploratory stage and no funding has yet been secured. The concept first emerged in conversations in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced officials, both local and within the Children and Family Agency, to press a break to deal of more pressing matters.

With the pandemic now largely in the background and funding potentially available at the state level through the Connecticut Department of Public Health, Blake said the agency is once again working with state lawmakers and officials to try to secure funding to start a health center at the high school.

Under the plan, the school health center would employ a full-time mental health professional and a part-time Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, or APRN. Those positions would be funded through the Children and Family Agency — Blake said the startup cost would be approximately $125,000 — while the school district would be responsible for providing public spaces and services. These expenses are already included and covered in the district’s annual budget, school officials said.

The Child and Family Agency is a New London-based organization that operates over a dozen school health centers in New London County. The organization also operates other programs in the region, including childcare centers, medical assistance, outpatient mental health services, and home intervention services.

“It may just be a possibility at this point, but this would provide an opportunity to have many of the services our students need right on site,” Butler told Board of Education members last week. “These would cover vaccines and vaccinations, provide mental health counseling and offer basic health services without students ever having to leave school.”

Blake said nationwide the need for expanded mental health services has only grown in recent years, and Stonington is no exception.

Recent district data has shown an increased need to address issues with chronic absenteeism and classroom behavior. A fact sheet provided by the district shows that this year, 15 sophomores did not start school on time because they did not receive their required annual physicals, while 96 sophomores are late for their annual physicals.

Nationwide, chronic absenteeism rates have soared over 20%, and in 2022, the district rate reached a high of 16%. The district had cut the rate down to 8.7% in 2015 and had a rate of 9.2% before the pandemic disruption.

The problem was even greater at Stonington High, where SHS principal Alicia Dawe said in December that analysis showed the rate peaked at 27.6% in spring 2022, “which is an alarming number.” “.

The data also suggests that school counselors now spend around 80% of their time addressing students’ mental health needs, up from just 40% just before the pandemic started.

“These are all issues that a school-based health center would help address,” Blake said, noting that the agency will need to secure state funding first. “It’s an important resource for meeting student needs, and now the goal is to find a way to make that a reality.”

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