South Africa’s school system shuttles students to doctor’s appointments without counting them absent

SAN ANTONIO- – The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened health problems, both physical and mental, for families as a whole.

Children need extra care, but many parents have spent their free time caring for children or falling ill themselves. Many of these parents have to choose between taking their children to the doctor or taking time off work without pay.

That’s why the Jubilee Academies charter school system in San Antonio steps in.

Valerie Guzman has four children on the Jubilee campus where she works as a medical assistant.

“I missed about, say, two weeks during the COVID period. You know, it’s kinda hard to miss,” Guzman said.

That’s why she was thrilled to learn of the school’s new partnership with the Robert B. Greene Center’s University Health System’s Teen Clinic. It is a public one-stop shop for 10-24 year olds.

Students who enroll in the Jubilee program leave school together, hop on a bus with a chaperone, and travel to the clinic for their individual appointments. When they return to school, they go straight back to class and are never counted as absent.

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“My son needed a medical and I put him on the list right away for that paperwork, and he was on his appointment the next day,” Guzman said.

Appointments are on Mondays and Wednesdays and relate to both physical and mental health.

“We identified behavioral health needs where needed. So we hired a counselor to be able to refer them, because we’ve seen a big increase, especially during the COVID pandemic, in anxiety and depression,” said Diana Gonzalez, executive director of women’s health at university health system.

Gonzalez said every child who comes to the teen clinic is assessed for their mental health.

“We are specially trained to be able to ask the appropriate questions, because they believe it is a space of trust. It’s a welcoming environment for these teenagers,” she says. “We work with school nurses, school counsellors, teachers and we all work together as a multidisciplinary need to care for these, these teenagers.”

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Clinic providers don’t just make mental health referrals.

“We have so many kids with diabetes or more serious conditions that they refer to a clinic that’s in Robert B. Greene,” said Diana Centeno, director of student services at Jubilee.

The clinic emphasizes comprehensive services, including financial.

“Some of them don’t even have health coverage or don’t know how to get it. So we also help them with financial assistance and with any type of health care coverage, if needed,” Gonzalez said.

Centeno said there was also a pharmacy in the clinic. Prescriptions are filled and given to the chaperone. The chaperone then brings the medications to campus, hands them to the health aide or nurse, who then hands them to the parent.

Thirty students have already been enrolled since the program began about two weeks ago, and they expect that number to grow rapidly.

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Jeremy S. McLain