Talk to the staff from International Community Health Services (ICHS) and the Highland Middle School Health Center and they have a lot of powerful stories despite that the health center is only in its third year of operation. Staff and health practitioners give students access to care, but they also help to teach students to advocate for themselves. “We empower the students and help them become their own health advocate,” says Sherryl Grey, director of community health with ICHS.
The Highland Middle School Health Center is an ICHS school-based health center offered in partnership with Youth Eastside Services (YES) and the Bellevue School District. The health center offers students access to ICHS medical providers, dental services through a mobile dental clinic, mental health services through YES, health education and much more.
At the mobile dental clinic, practitioners offer almost everything a dental office can provide – it even looks like a dentist’s office. ICHS staff recognize that for many kids they need to break through a significant barrier: the belief that dental care is cosmetic and doesn’t impact overall health. They hope that utilizing the dental clinic gets kids started with a dental health routine and they work with students directly and compassionately to customize their care and get them comfortable overcoming dentist anxiety.
Funding for the health center comes from ICHS, which submitted a proposal for funding through King County’s Best Starts for Kids program. The dental clinic vehicle was paid for through a federal grant, but it doesn’t cover ongoing costs. ICHS will bill insurance when they can, but kids aren’t turned away for lack of insurance and there is no out of pocket cost.
ICHS offers services in many world languages, including, but not limited to Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hindi and Russian and has a diverse staff who are aware of religious and cultural customs. “We are culture and language conscious,” said Rosaly Rivero, the ICHS clinic care coordinator at Highland.
In addition to health providers and therapists, the Highland health center offers space during lunch one day a week for students who want time away from the excitement of the lunchroom. Students can eat quietly, play games or do other activities in small groups. Over the summer, ICHS offered a camp through the health center. The students engaged in activities, field trips and learned useful skills – from cooking to conflict resolution.
ICHS staff believe that when students can get help with something – whether it is mental health, physical health or a needed dental procedure – it can have a positive impact on the learning environment. While the Highland health center focuses on healthcare, the staff believe there is a ripple effect that makes their impact much wider. Overall, they exist for the whole student and their overall well-being. “We want every student to thrive,” said Rivero.