Parents, students, teachers and local office-holders and community members came together on Tuesday, September 24, to celebrate the official opening of a school-based health and vision center at PS 18 in the South Bronx.

The state-of-the-art facility is a joint project of the UFT’s United Community Schools, the city Department of Education and the Montefiore School Health Program, the largest and most comprehensive school-based health program in the country.

The roughly 600 students at PS 18 are eligible to receive vision, dental, mental health and general medical services at the center. The school, which serves students from pre-K to 5th grade, is in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, with a poverty rate of nearly 30 percent, high unemployment, poor air quality contributing to high asthma rates and large numbers of families without medical insurance.

The PS 18 health center has provided more than 7,600 medical visits for more than 1,000 students since opening. Included in those totals are more than 450 student dental visits and more than 150 student mental health visits. When Montefiore opened its vision services at the center in May, 33% of the initial students screened failed the vision tests and needed additional assistance.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., whose office contributed $500,000 in city funds toward the project, said, “Health care is vital in insuring that our students have the skills to perform well in school and this facility will decrease barriers to accessing quality care by offering multiple services at one location. I’m happy to have contributed funding to such an invaluable community resource promoting essential components in children’s care and well-being. Thank you to UFT’s United Community Schools initiative, the Department of Education and the Montefiore School Health Program for making this happen in the South Bronx.”

The Montefiore School Health program currently runs 30 clinics and provides health services to more than 42,000 students in elementary, middle and high school students throughout the Bronx.

“Children are better able to learn and perform well in school when they are healthy,” said Dr. Delaney Gracy, the director of clinical services at Montefiore School Health Program. “By providing comprehensive health services, including the brand new vision service, right where students are every day, we make it easy for them to take control of their health, get any help they may need, and be ready to achieve success at school.”

The United Federation of Teachers, through its United Community Schools initiative, supports the creation of school-based health centers as an effective way to help remove obstacles to learning and make sure all students and families have access to quality health care.

“Schools are a natural place to provide student health services,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “We hope to build on this successful model, which puts children’s needs first.”

By bringing preventative care to where children spend much of their day, school-based health centers can lead to better health outcomes for young people, including higher vaccination rates and reduced complications from chronic illnesses like asthma and diabetes.

State Senator Shelley B. Mayer, Chair of the Education Committee, said, “This is a terrific model of collaboration to serve our public school students. Congratulations on bringing schools, community health providers, and the union representing thousands of NY’s teachers together in a true “community school.” This new model is transformative for the community, the children, their families and the City.”

State Sen. John Liu, the chair of the Senate Committee on NYC Education, praised the teamwork that brings services to where they have the most impact for students and families.

“To get the most out of their education, kids have to be in good health. Can you imagine learning how to read with a toothache or squinting to make out the correct spelling on the blackboard because you need glasses? Families are very busy in this city, so to have an on-site medical facility at school is a huge time-saver and scheduling a doctor’s appointment during the workday won’t be a hassle for hard-working parents anymore,” Liu said. “Congratulations to UFT, Montefiore, NYCDOE and Bronx BP Ruben Diaz Jr. for getting this done. I hope this is becomes the standard for the modern way NYC schools serve kids and parents going forward,” Liu added.

Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, chair of the Assembly Education Committee said, “I applaud the opening of this clinic that will deal with the health needs of the community in a school setting. Good health is a prerequisite to a solid learning experience. Let this clinic set an example to be replicated elsewhere.”

Through the program, New York City based eyewear brand Warby Parker will provide free prescription eyeglasses to students that need them. The company has designed a line of glasses specifically for students that are part of this program and Warby Parker’s Pupils Project initiative.

“We’re incredibly excited about the impact that school-based health and vision centers have on a community. Montefiore is a pioneer in this space, and we’re honored to be part of their effort in our backyard,” says Warby Parker Co-founder and Co-CEO Neil Blumenthal.

The school-based centers allow students to receive care during the school day with a minimum loss of classroom time and without requiring parents and family members to take time off from work.

“As educators, we look for ways to help students to get ready to learn. By partnering with health care providers like Montefiore, we can help children and their families in a direct and meaningful way,” said Karen Alford, the UFT vice president for elementary schools and director of the United Community Schools initiative.

School-based health centers have also proven cost-effective by resulting in savings to state Medicaid programs while providing care to students who might not receive it otherwise.

PS 18 is one of 32 schools in the UFT’s United Community Schools initiative, which works with schools and outside providers to ensure that a variety of health, community and educational services are available to students and families.