Adolescence is a time of critical development, when mental and physical needs grow more complicated and challenging. If help dealing with them can't be found at home, the school environment can have a powerful impact on teenagers needing assistance to cope.
Tha's the idea behind building school-based health centers. When Middletown High School became the first Delaware school to open a health center in 1985, it was staffed with a clinical social worker, nurse practitioner and registered dietician. At the time, there were only 50 other school-based health centers in the country.
Three decades later, there are nearly 2000 school-based health centers nationwide, including an additional 28 in Delaware. Many have taken active steps to help students manage weight, receive reproductive health services and gain access to various other resources.
Mary Stephens, director of Christiana Care's school-based health centers, says the benefits of having a school-based health center are nothing to scoff at.
"I think sometimes school-based health centers are criticized as something that just feels good and is just a convenience for students," said Stephens. "But there's some really good data out there that shows that they really make a difference."
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report saying that school-based health centers reduce the number of emergency room visits, especially for teenagers with asthma conditions. Just having access to a health center also has been shown to significantly lower high school dropout rates.
In Delaware, Stephens says that school-based health centers have successfully helped lower the body mass index of students and prevent sexually transmitted infections. In the coming years, Christiana Care hopes to continue developing mental health resources and immunization programs, among many other goals.
"I'd say even with extended health care coverage, the needs of these teens are still pretty great and in some ways, more so than they were 30 years ago," said Stephens.
Christiana Care Health System and Middletown High School officials mark the 30th anniversary of the health center at the school Tuesday morning with help former governor Mike Castle and Senator Tom Carper, who helped establish Delaware’s first school-based health center.