But the morning of Thursday, Aug. 31st was a tremendous exception.
Nearly 100 people attended a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the recent opening of Affinia Healthcare at Normandy High School, a primary care health center located on the high school campus. So many people attended, the school opened its football field to handle the overflow in parking.
The morning was truly a demonstration of school spirit and partnership. Students in the band joined their clarinets, flutes, drums and tubas to pump out music by Prince and other songs. Their peers in the high school’s culinary arts program spent the morning preparing sweet treats like banana bread and strawberry cream cups which they served to a line of eager guests. Normandy High School junior Kaviyon Calvert prepared a speech for guests.
The celebration was held in a large gathering space outside the health center decorated with bright murals painted by St. Louis artist Cbabi Bayoc and Normandy High students, making the space an inviting place to seek out health services.
Normandy Schools Collaborative Superintendent Dr. Charles Pearson emceed the event which highlighted the district’s partnership with four organizations that worked together to make the center possible: Affinia Healthcare is providing medical care and staffing; BJC HealthCare is donating in-kind donations, including furnishings and medical supplies; Wyman, a youth development organization, is working to integrate the health center into the everyday activities of the school district; and For the Sake of All, which is conducting critical needs assessments in schools and fostering partnerships to support and increase school-based health.
“This is about giving schools all of the tools and partnerships they need to create truly healthy schools – schools that cater to the whole child so they can be healthy and succeed,” said For the Sake of All Director Jason Purnell, one of eight speakers.
Honorary guests came from as far as Jefferson City. They included local and state elected officials, as well as Dr. Margie Vandeven, commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“It’s a really exciting thing when research and common sense just collide,” Vandeven said. “Our students will learn when their basic needs are met.”
After the speeches, all of the partners squeezed in behind the long paper banner in front of the health center – each armed with jumbo gold-handled scissors.
Affinia Healthcare President and CEO Alan Freeman gave the final count-down.
The banner was so big It took several cuts. The crowd cheered the partners long after the banner fell to the floor in pieces. The celebration continued with small tours of the health center’s two examination rooms and its waiting room and lab area.
It is not without some somber recognition that this this joyful moment took place in Michael Brown’s high school just two weeks after the anniversary of his death. In a way, Normandy’s health center and Mike Brown’s legacy are linked.
The outrage that emerged after his death in Ferguson, MO in August 2014 brought critical attention to For the Sake of All’s Report on the Health and Well-Being of African Americans in St. Louis and Why It Matters for Everyone. The research in the Report, published just four months before Brown’s death, was clear: inequity from poverty and segregation was severely harming the health and longevity of African Americans in St. Louis.
Opening more school-based health centers in high-need school districts like the new one in Normandy High School was a direct community response to this Report.
For the Sake of All’s work in school-based health is far from done. For the Sake of All is working to foster more partnerships to open two new centers in North St. Louis County by the start of the 2017-2018 school year. Work is also underway to establish Missouri as an organized affiliate of the School-Based Health Alliance, a national organization empowering the creation of effective school-based health centers. Ultimately, For the Sake of All aims to open a health center in every high-need high school in the region.
When the party wound down at Normandy High School, red and green apples reflecting Normandy’s school colors were handed out to the crowd. As they headed to their cars, guests carried with them a symbol of the merging of health and education – and a shiny bite of hope.
Want to learn more? The ribbon-cutting was covered by Fox2 news reporter Shawndrea Thomas on Aug. 31. Reporter Kristen Taketa of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also wrote an extensive Aug. 23 newspaper story on the growth of school-based health in St. Louis.
Photo credits: Sam Nuernberger for Wyman