Colorado Springs School District 11 will build a primary-care health clinic for the community at Mitchell High School, in concert with Peak Vista Community Health Centers, the board of education decided last week.

The project is part of a new push to invest in programs designed to bring more students into the fold, as the city’s oldest and largest district works to reverse declining enrollment.

“I want our schools to be the hubs of our community, and the partnership with Peak Vista aligns with what we are envisioning,” said D-11 Superintendent Michael Thomas. “We want to take a holistic approach to educating students.”

Research shows that attention to health and wellness translates into better student performance, Thomas said.

“If we can strengthen that family unit and make them healthier and more engaged, we are going to see a stronger outcome with Mitchell student achievement,” he said.

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The seven-member board voted 6-1 to spend $1.1 million from capital reserves to remodel a 4,850-square-foot space in the northwest corner of Mitchell High to create a family medical center.

The facility will provide “a comprehensive primary-care health center with integrated behavior and dental health services,” for at least five years, according to the plan.

Unlike school-based centers that only serve students and siblings, Mitchell’s site will be open to students and siblings as well as parents, students and families from feeder schools, along with residents from the neighborhood and other areas of town.

It’s the first clinic of its kind for Peak Vista, a nonprofit which provides medical, dental and behavioral health at 26 outpatient centers in the Pikes Peak region, in particular to government-subsidized health care clients along with under-insured patients. The cost of a visit for an average patient is $10, said Pam McManus, president and CEO of Peak Vista, and services for some clients, such as the homeless, are free.

“While Peak Vista is widely known and respected for both our family health and school-based models of care delivery, this will be our first venture in this innovative, blended model, and we are excited for this partnership with D-11,” she said. “It’s keeping kids in the seats through preventive care.”

Construction will get underway soon, and is scheduled to be completed in December under the agreement. Peak Vista will supply employees, equipment, resources and services such as physicals, sick visits, health screenings, laboratory services, immunizations, mental health counseling, dental care and health education.

Mitchell, 1205 Potter Drive, is in southeast Colorado Springs, an area of high poverty and crime, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

“That area is prime for something like this,” said D-11 board member Shawn Gullixson, a Mitchell alum who said he knows first-hand that students who don’t feel well don’t do well in school. “There’s a lot of uninsured and under-insured people in that whole southeast portion of the city.”

Locating health centers inside schools has been a growing national trend over the past decade. The Mitchell site will be the fourth in the Pikes Peak region but will be larger and cater to a broader clientele than some.

Two in Colorado Springs, Entrada at Carmel Middle School in Harrison School District 2, and Falcon Peak in Falcon Elementary School in Falcon School District 49, only serve students and siblings enrolled in the district, up to age 21. Harrison D-2 officials are considering expanding Entrada to encompass adults, said spokeswoman Christine O’Brien.

Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 has a similar model to Mitchell’s. Mountain Health Center, inside Cresson Elementary School in Cripple Creek, provides community-wide care by providers from Centura Health’s Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.

Grants and funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment usually help with operations of health care sites at schools. Peak Vista is seeking a grant from a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the new clinic at Mitchell.

“We have an opportunity to change the direction not only of this school but that neighborhood,” Gullixson said. “That area of the city is a major priority for a lot of organizations, all the way to the mayor’s office, and we have an opportunity to uplift it.”

Board member Theresa Null opposed the proposal. Among her concerns, Null questioned other district needs and uses of money, at a time when D-11 needs to cut up to $11 million from next school year’s general fund budget.

Thomas said the money intended for the Mitchell clinic is earmarked for capital projects. He told the board that poor academic performance in recent years at Mitchell calls for reform, meaning the school “needs to innovate and do something drastically different to interrupt the outcomes” before the state intervenes with a prescribed path.

“That area of our city is concentrated in terms of poverty and other issues; our schools are a microcosm of that,” he said. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to interrupt those predictable outcomes that are pervasively happening in that band of schools.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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