Penn co-hosts national forum on community schools

Addressing the teachers, administrators and service providers gathered in Center City Philadelphia for the 2010 national forum of the Coalition of Community Schools, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she likes schools that are “friendly places.”

“We need to open them up, make them the centers of our communities.”

She was certainly speaking to the right audience. The community school model—a place that is open 10-15 hours a day, offers after-school programs for all ages in the evenings and on weekends and develops partnerships with other resources for health and social services and youth and community development—is the focus of the coalition, and a core mission of Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

The Netter Center, which partners with Wilson Elementary School and West and Sayre high schools in West Philadelphia, is co-hosting the four-day conference.

Sebelius said that one of her key missions as secretary is to expand the footprint of school-based health clinics—where students, their families and neighbors can all secure quality health care—and she sees collaboration with her cabinet counterparts as vital to her success.

“The Department of Agriculture has money to build school-based health care clinics in rural areas,” she said to enthusiastic applause. “I know because I ask everyone if they have money.”

Sayre High School has such a clinic—where Penn nursing and medical students provide health care to neighborhood residents.

Penn President Amy Gutmann introduced Sebelius, crediting the secretary’s belief in the importance of community schools to a tour Sebelius once took in Cincinnati with her father, the former governor of Ohio. Sebelius described the experience later in the program. She said her dad, two decades after leaving the governor’s mansion, decided to run for the school board in Cincinnati, where the schools faced many challenges. One K-8 school she described sent less than 35 percent of the students on to high school because of transportation issues. After the school was transformed into a K-12, and health clinics and neighborhood services were added, she said 50 percent of the students reportedly went on to college.

Throughout her remarks, Sebelius advocated that our nation needs to provide “what children need to be successful,” whether that is nutritious food when schools are not in session, opportunities to become physically fit, or obesity prevention and smoking cessation programs. “And we must engage parents in these initiatives.”

Aptly, Sebelius delivered this keynote address on World Health Day, the focus of which is urban health. “Some of the poorest people in the world live in cities,” she said. “Where you live really does matter—for education, health care and access to services.”

Also speaking at the event were Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and Pennsylvania Education Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak. U. S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made his remarks via video. Martin Blank, executive director of the Coalition, and Ira Harkavy, founding director of Penn’s Netter Center, made the introductions.

Originally published on April 7, 2010