Keeping students in school, on track for graduation
Sam Howard, the Office Coordinator at Oakland High School, will never forget Halloween day 2019. A female student came into the office, confiding that she was six months pregnant and worried something might be wrong.
Luckily, Oakland High School has the city's only school-based health clinic because, in the short walk to the clinic, the student's water broke.
"I immediately went from employee mode to mom-mode," said Howard. "I knew she needed immediate medical care, and I was so grateful for the clinic."
The clinic team was able to assess the student and unborn child, get her stabilized and transported to a hospital. The baby was born later that day, premature, but healthy.
The MultiCare clinic at Oakland High School opened its doors in April 2019 as Tacoma's first school-based clinic. The clinic is a partnership between Tacoma Public Schools, MultiCare, and Communities in Schools, providing a range of medical services and mental health services to Oakland students and their children.
The vision for a clinic in Oakland started over five years. "My first week as principal, I started to look for services," said Oakland Principal John Jones. "We talked to anyone and everyone we could think of and told them about our dream for the clinic. MultiCare and Communities in Schools stayed at the table and made it happen."
MultiCare recognized the need and saw the clinic as a perfect match for its mission of partnering with the community. "It's about being where patients are when they need you," said Nurse Practioner and clinic medical director Cyd Markmann.
Having the clinic onsite goes beyond providing health services, the clinic is helping students stay in school. "When kids have access to healthcare, everyone benefits," said Markmann
Students and their families can miss hours of school seeking medical care, and students with children of their own often miss school to bring their children to the doctor.
Oakland senior, Nidia Acevedo knows first hand the difficulties of balancing motherhood and school. She chose Oakland for the onsite daycare. However, she credits both the daycare and the clinic with her ability to stay on track for graduation.
"When the daycare called and said my baby was sick, I was able to get her in right away," said Nidia. "Without the clinic here, I would have had to leave school on the bus with my sick baby. I am so grateful for the clinic. It's not just about students; it's about our kids too."
Oakland currently has 179 students enrolled and offers a full range of high school courses, including advanced placement courses, all in a small class environment. Oakland was also the first school in Tacoma to have 100 percent of its students earn an industry certification.
Jones explains, "We are not an alternative school; we're a small school with an alternative schedule."
Meeting students' needs and removing barriers has been key to Oakland's success. "Many students come to Oakland as juniors or seniors, and they are often behind in credits. We sit down, make a plan, and support them through graduation," said Jones.
In 2017 Oakland was named a Washington State school of distinction for sustained graduation rate increases. And in 2019, Oakland's four-year on-time rate was a record 69.8 percent, but Jones is equally as proud of the five, six, and seven rates of 80 percent, 76.6 percent, and 85.7 percent. "That is a testament to our students who continue to preserve and who don't quit," said Jones
"This school is such a big part of me reaching my goals," said Nidia. "All students here really want to graduate and to serve our community."
In January 2020, the clinic expanded services beyond Oakland to serve Tacoma Public School students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and students enrolled at Willie Stewart Academy. There are currently 1,288 homeless students, 510 students in foster care, and 141 students enrolled at Willie Stewart Academy.
"We've always had the goal of expanding services," said Jones. "There is a tremendous need for both comprehensive mental health and well care."
To continue the expansion of services Oakland will need a revamped building space. The current clinic resides in what used to be the principal's office, front office area, and storage closet. During the construction of the clinic, Markmann spent a lot of time thinking through where to put supplies and how-to layout the space.
"It's tiny; it's really tiny. It was never designed to be a clinic," Markmann said. "We work really hard to provide privacy, but it's a challenge."
Oakland is part of Tacoma Public School's proposition 1, which will be on the ballot on February 11. If approved, the historic building would be completely renovated, including the clinic area.
"We could potentially have two rooms and expand access to more students and many even staff in the future," Markmann said.
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...