Students, community partners, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Best Starts and King County leadership, celebrated the opening of a new school-based health center at Highline High School in Burien last month.
School-based health centers offer a broad range of health care supports for students that may otherwise be difficult to access in their communities. At the health centers, overseen by Public Health—Seattle & King County, students can get mental health care, immunizations, family planning, and other care in the context of a school environment. What began as a pilot program in Rainier Beach High School in 1989, has expanded to 36 school-based health centers across King County.
The direct impact on students
“Having access to a full-service clinic can make a huge difference,” said Highline High School senior Maria Mena, with support from a translator at the opening celebration. “On a personal note, it would have been a big help to me the last two years when I was trying to make the basketball team.”
Unfortunately, because of conflicts with work and school, and not having access to a clinic, Maria was unable to get the necessary medical check-up to try out for the team as a junior. This year, prior to the health center opening, she decided to try again.
“I didn’t know how the system worked, but I took the bus to a clinic on my own and lost a whole school day even though the check-up only took 40 minutes.”
The new school-based health center at Highline opens up these opportunities and more for students like Maria, whose first language is Spanish.
Having a school-based health center breaks down barriers for students to receive health care and mental health services, Mena said. She listed the need for language interpretation, transportation and insurance as some of the barriers broken down by the school-based health center.
“Providing easy access to medical services saves time and resources so students can focus on their education,” she said.
Across King County, school-based health centers have been a profound resource for students. In the 2021-22 school year, more than 8,000 King County students got medical and mental health care at a school-based health center, which amounts to about 40,000 health visits. While school-based health centers promote overall health and mental health, they also support students’ educational success, resulting in better overall attendance and GPA.
Expanding the supports of school-based health centers
Earlier in March, King County announced a partnership with the Ballmer Group to expand mental health enhancements. Best Starts is investing $1.2 million and Ballmer Group is also contributing $1.2 million over the next three years to fund culturally responsive mental health care enhancements within King County school-based health centers.
Young people have been clear that they need more mental health supports at this time, as the pandemic and the ongoing public health crisis of racism continues to impact students’ emotional well-being. This partnership will fund the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County’s Southeast Network, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, International Community Health Services, and Neighborcare Health to bring these enhancements to clinics in Seattle Public Schools, Bellevue, and Highline school districts.