Touting Rochester Public Schools’ Alternative Learning Center as a model for the state, Gov. Tim Walz was on hand Monday to talk about education and laud the restart of a health clinic at the school.
The health clinic for students, which has been closed for several months due to lack of resources, was reopened thanks to a commitment from Mayo Clinic to staff it.
“We believe that you have the model in community schools that needs to be, not replicated in the very same manner, but the framework to let each community make its own community school that fits the needs of that community,” Walz said at a roundtable discussion to mark the clinic’s reopening. “Once again, Rochester is showing what collaboration looks like.”
Walz listened as students, parents and community partners also spoke out on Monday.
Dr. Sarah Crane, who spearheaded the project for Mayo, said the health care provider would staff the clinic four hours per day, providing care, testing and some basic lab work for students. The goal is to remove one more barrier that prevents students from focusing on school work.
Superintendent Michael Muñoz thanked Mayo Clinic for stepping forward with an attitude of finding ways to help, rather than letting bureaucracy get in the way.
Crane added, “I’ve never seen something move through Mayo so quickly.”
Many of the students at the ALC face struggles harder than those facing the average high school student. Roughly 67 percent of the school’s students have qualified for the free or reduced lunch program, compared to 36 percent districtwide, according to district records.
The school offers conveniences including showers for students, laundry facilities, day care for infants and toddlers of students who are also parents, and, now, a health clinic.
Christian Bartels, 16, a sophomore at the ALC, said the point of the school is about removing those barriers.
“Students have so many things to deal with,” he said, mentioning food struggles, homelessness and other socioeconomic hurdles. “This is about finding those resources and pulling in from the community.”
Once those barriers are removed, Bartels said, teachers can get students “on an education path, on a career path, so students can learn.”
Walz, a former teacher, thanked the eight students in the discussion for sharing their perspective on the community school and how it helps them succeed.
“Thank you for caring enough, for seeing something in your community, and wanting to fix it,” the governor said.
Walz has made education a big part of his budget proposal, and full-service community schools are part of his plan to improve Minnesota education.
“In our budget we have $4 million in each year, $8 million for the biennium, specifically for full-service community schools,” Walz said.
Often communities, especially smaller communities, have trouble funding full-service community schools. Walz said he’d like to have a competitive grant program in which school districts make their own requests for a community school that fits their needs. Part of that would be developing the public-private partnerships that help bring resources to the ALC.
From having a safe place to shower in the morning to having laundry facilities, Walz said community schools are helping students who don’t find that help in other parts of their lives.
The new health clinic can help remove barriers such as parents who can’t get away from work or can’t afford a trip to the doctor, Walz said. And for some students, that means avoiding a costly trip to an emergency room.
“You shouldn’t have to go through life with that sore throat that may be strep throat and put you at risk,” Walz said. “Let’s get in and see someone.”