How schools are targeting student health to raise attendance, graduation rates

At Brooklyn Center High School, one of the most important rooms doesn’t contain a teacher. It contains doctors.

The health resource center at the school has a dentist office, a vision center and a medical clinic. It’s all part of what Brooklyn Center calls its “community school” model, which targets families, not just students.

“We are trying to support things like having better attendance rates and test scores, because health outcomes are really linked to academic outcomes,” said Stephanie Ptak, coordinator of the health resource center.

Before the model started in 2009, there were 9,000 student absences from class. In 2014, that number dropped and other numbers rose. The graduation is now 87 percent and students going to college is up to 78 percent. School leaders argue their secret is in looking beyond the classroom.

Stella Sola runs the family resource center at the school -- a place where students and their parents can come if they need a shirt or a pair of pants for work.

“The idea is that we want to take care of the student completely as a student,” Sola said.

At the State Capitol, senators are learning of the community school model as one way toward closing persistent achievement gaps. Brooklyn Center’s director of community partnerships says it’s also a cost-effective program.

“You’re rally relying on your partners to leverage resources, whether that’s funding or any resources that they can bring on site,” said Patrice Howard.

This is all in an effort to create a community to help students with all of their needs.

“We want to see them being grown young men and women and know that they care about them, and this is our way of saying we care,” Sola said.

All of these outcomes happened as student enrollment increased by more than 250 students over that 5 year period.