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Principal Says New School-Based Clinic Will Save Lives

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Aired 12/10/10

A new school-based health clinic opened at Central Elementary School in City Heights on Friday. The opening comes five months after a student's death.

— A new health clinic offering broad medical services opened at Central Elementary School in City Heights on Friday. The opening comes several months after a student's death.

Student Alexia Montoya gets checked by a pediatric nurse practioner on Friday at the Health and Wellness Center at Central Elementary School in City Heights.
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Above: Student Alexia Montoya gets checked by a pediatric nurse practioner on Friday at the Health and Wellness Center at Central Elementary School in City Heights.

Demareon Bracks was a second grader at Central Elementary. He was walking to get ice cream with family friends in City Heights when he collapsed. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Bracks had undiagnosed sickle cell anemia. The tragedy took place the first week of school during the construction of Central Elementary's new health and wellness center. It will be staffed by a doctor and other medical personnel, and is the first of its kind in the San Diego Unified School District.

The clinic is attached to the school-nurse’s office. In the center of the floor is a blue star in memory of Demareon. School workers at Central say the loss was especially poignant on the opening day.

“Demareon had big dreams and his favorite shape was a star,” said Principal Cindy Martin. “His favorite color was blue and he would draw blue stars everywhere.”

About 860 students attend the inner-city school. Martin said an estimated one in four children do not have health insurance.

The students, their families and community members can all get the medical attention at the school clinic, Martin said. Research shows school-based health clinics help to improve both the physical and academic well-being of students. Martin expects the school’s attendance rate will increase.

“The clinic is right here, (students) don’t have to miss school,” she said. “I’m expecting our attendance to go up 2 percent. That’s 2 percent more of my kids in school every day taking advantage of the education that I’m providing.”

Community clinics being housed on school grounds are not uncommon in San Diego County. However, most operate only during school hours.

Two community clinic groups, La Marestra and San Diego Family Care, are working together to provide medical personnel and services on a daily basis at the new Central Elementary Health and Wellness Center.

Together the community clinics treat the majority of student families in the area, making them trusted practitioners in the mid-city neighborhood.

Zara Marselian, La Maestra chief executive, said the center will also provide health education for parents, as well as mental-health and behavioral-health services to young people. Marselian said depression and suicidal-thinking is a growing problem with inner-city youth.

“Self-confidence and self-esteem become huge issues in high school,” she said. “We hope to instill that with the children now so when they become teenagers, we won’t see so many issues.”

Martin hopes the unique partnership will garner the attention of President Barack Obama; they even hope he will visit the school. The principal says Demareon was a huge fan of the president.

The Price Family Charity Fund provided $50,000 to build the clinic.

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