North Philly charter school's wellness center helps students to be well

Posted: January 21, 2014

NURSE JULIA Rodriguez loves at least two aspects of her job working at the Pan American Academy Charter School.

No. 1, taking care of students who enter the Pan American Academy Wellness Center every day. And two, her office, which is small and windowless.

"My office is awesome," said Rodriguez. "I've had offices before but none of them have given me everything that I need to take care of the kids the way this one does."

Her office is stocked with all necessary medical supplies she needs - plus some really neat gadgets like the thermometer that measures body temperature using an infrared light aimed at a human forehead.

Officials at the school and its parent organization, the nonprofit Congreso de Latinos Unidos, opened the much-visited center in 2010 to help out with some of the health-care issues facing the North Philadelphia school community.

The center is staffed every day with one nurse, Rodriguez, and a family therapist, paid for by Congreso. Additionally, a nurse practioner from the Congreso Health Center visits weekly to assist Rodriguez with her caseload.

And the school, on American Street near Cambria, has a potentially large patient pool of 750 kids, the overwhelming majority are Latino and most live within one mile of the school.

About 33 percent of the student body has been diagnosed with asthma, said Wanda Novales, CEO of Pan American Academy. And about 50 percent of all Philadelphia Latino children, ages 6 to 17, were overweight or obese in 2011, compared with just more than 30 percent of non-Hispanic whites, according to the city.

Rodriguez says she sees 15 to 30 kids each day for sickness and injury. Peak traffic is during lunch and recess, which is 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

She sees another 10 students a day for routine medications such as asthma or diabetes. In addition, Rodriguez does about 20 student screenings a day, in compliance with a state mandate that all enrolled Pennsylvania students in K-12 must undergo health screenings.

Since 2010, 9,500 students have visited the center, according to figures provided by Novales. And, perhaps because of it, school attendance has gone up, she said.

The attendance rate was 91 percent in the center's first year, 2010-11. Last year the rate was 95 percent and so far in 2013-14, the rate is 96 percent, Novales said. She attributes the increase to the treatment children received - and more informed parents.

"The Wellness Center is one of the many things that we offer our families, but it's one that obviously we are very proud of because it's not one that many of our families are able to have anywhere else," Novales said.


On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

Online: ph.ly/DNEducation

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