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Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary joins network of school clinics working to keep families healthy

The school-based health center at Rainier Beach High School (Image: Public Health)

With reporting by Jake Goldstein-Street

Though Seattle’s public schools will continue to focus on online education through at least January, many campuses are open to provide in-person health-care services. Thanks to a new partnership, two new school health centers are opening this fall in the Central District and on Capitol Hill.

The Seattle School Board approved $315,000 in funding earlier this month for a new school-based health center at Lowell Elementary in Capitol Hill aimed at providing quality care to the school’s population that is disproportionately made up of homeless and low-income students.

The project, a partnership between the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and Country Doctor Community Health Center, with a total cost of about $615,000, is also being funded through a $300,000 “Distressed Schools Grant” from the state awarded earlier this year.

The money is being tapped from a nearly $700 million capital levy passed by over 70% of Seattle voters in 2013.

“I just want to say how excited I am to finally see this come forward, we’ve certainly been talking about it in community for a long time,” board President Zachary DeWolf, whose district includes the school, said about the plan as it was brought before the board last month.

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The center would look to provide primary care services as well as immunizations, dental care, mental health, and behavioral health resources to students, their families, and school staff.

The new clinic will be staffed by nurse practitioners from Odessa Brown and Country Doctor.

“It will be a game changer to create healthy, sustainable living for families that are experiencing trauma and the lack of resources in their life,” Capitol Hill EcoDistrict’s Akeyla Jimerson said in public testimony to the school board.

The Lowell Elementary planning committee spearheading the project created a conceptual design for the health center and was set to begin the selection process for an architectural firm. Construction to transform a small area of the school building is scheduled for summer 2021.

The E Mercer school that serves as the assigned elementary for downtown homeless shelters currently has 280 students in its kindergarten through 5th grade classes, according to Principal Sarah Talbot. Over 120 of those students are white, 70 are Black, 56 are experiencing homelessness, and nearly a quarter are in special education. Given the precariousness of its students’ housing situations, the school’s population faces a high turnover rate that can lead to negative outcomes for students.

“If we can support all the students at Lowell, we can help create better opportunities [and] outcomes for them,” Charles Ellis, the parent of a kindergartner and third-grader at Lowell, said in public testimony.

The school has 68 staff members.

In a survey of the families of Lowell students, 50% of respondents said that difficulty getting an appointment was the number one challenge in getting health care for their children. Other frequently-cited barriers included limited hours at clinics, transportation issues, high costs, and language barriers.

In this survey, 35% of families said they didn’t have a place their children could go for counseling services. Another 10% said they did but the wait time is too long. For general health care needs, a majority of families said they used a primary care clinic or family doctor, but also reported using emergency rooms or walk-in clinics to access care.

“We can’t provide families with health care needs, but we can connect them to someone who can,” Talbot told Community Roots Housing. “And the school-based health center is about that. It’s about ensuring that everyone has what they need at our building.”

About 46% of families said they would allow their children to use the health center on their own, another 45% said they would need to be there also, and less than 9% said they wouldn’t want their child receiving its services, according to the survey.

There are dozens of school-based health centers like the one planned for Lowell in schools across King County that provide over 50,000 health care visits each year. For example, Country Doctor sponsors a no-cost center at Meany Middle School in Miller Park.

A new center will also open at the Central District’s NOVA alternative high school.

Seattle/King County Public Health coordinates the network of 34 clinics, and directly operates three locations. The facilities are staffed and operated by community health-care providers, which compete through a Request for Application process to provide health services.

Officials say they provide a vital link in health care services during the pandemic. “The need for basic health-care hasn’t gone away just because students are learning from home,” Patty Hayes, director of Public Health, said in a statement. “In fact, many families may be struggling to get health-care access, and they may have fallen behind on routine vaccinations, which protect against many common childhood diseases. Routine vaccines and seasonal influenza vaccine are more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re grateful our partners are committed to maintaining access to these health centers.”

Accomplishing the funding in the midst of the ongoing pandemic is also a bittersweet milestone for DeWolf. The board president, recent District 3 city council candidate, and former head of the Capitol Hill Community Council announced earlier this month he will not be seeking a second term on the school board. DeWolf was elected to the board in 2017. “Serving my community as your Director has been the great joy of my life,” he writes in his goodbye message. “I will leave proud of my legacy and the transformation I have been a part of during my term.”

Meanwhile, the school centers are busy, providing in-person medical and mental health services on-campus and at community-based clinics as well as offering web and phone-based telehealth appointments. The centers can also refer families for basic needs including food security. To learn more about the centers, visit

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