Britannia Junior High might look like any other school in the city, but it’s not. Here, you’ll find something that’s not in any other school in the public district.
The school in west Edmonton has an on-site health clinic, serving students, their families and the community.
The clinic opened last June in the neighbouring Boys and Girls Club. Within the first three months, nearly half of all 150 students had dropped in to address basic health concerns.
One of those students is Rana De Belen.
She’s not comfortable sharing why she needed to see a doctor, but she’s just grateful she did. De Belen says her parents kept telling her she was fine, but she wanted a second opinion.
“The clinic was so good and the people here are so nice. They helped me a lot,” says De Belen.
Reasons for the visits range widely; from treating eczema and ear infections, to getting a prescription for birth control. Providing mental health support is also a big component.
Students don’t need parental consent to get treated, and can drop in anytime to see the nurse and doctor team.
“It’s important because it teaches them how to proactively look after themselves and be autonomous in their own health care,” says Jeff Nguyen, who is the licensed practical nurse at the clinic.
The one-year pilot project has been a labour of love for Nicole Beart.
The literacy intervention teacher helps Britannia students with their reading, but over the last three years, her job has become much more than that. She started noticing that some of the students’ basic health needs weren’t always being met. Others were having a hard time seeing, to read books, and couldn’t attend an appointment with a parent. So she took it upon herself to walk or take a taxi with the children after school, so they could see a doctor or an optometrist.
“As educators, we often see that link between health care and education. If a child’s not feeling well or not attending school, they can’t learn to the best, academically,” says Beart.
Britannia Junior High ranks 13th out of 213 schools in the public district for most socially vulnerable. Beart knew she had to do more to help eliminate barriers to health care for students and busy working families.
She reached out to community partners like the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, the Primary Care Network – Edmonton West and the Boys and Girls Clubs. Together they helped make the clinic a reality.
“The students have been so appreciative of this opportunity,” says Beart. “We always hear that phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and in this case, that village was the west end of Edmonton.”
Beart says the response to the community concept has been overwhelming. She enjoys seeing her students take their health into their own hands.
“Enabling the kids to access this care on their own and empowering them to advocate for themselves, and be able to attend appointments, is creating independence in them but also helping set them up for life skills in the future,” she adds.
Since the clinic’s inception, Beart says she’s definitely seen a difference in her students’ performance. The early success of the clinic now has other schools watching, to see if this is a model that could work in other vulnerable communities.
“This isn’t a unique situation. There are families dealing with poverty and social vulnerability and barriers to access health care all over our city.”