UI student initiates effort to get kids ready for fall

UI student initiates effort to get kids ready for fall

CHAMPAIGN – Each fall, the staff at Garden Hills scrambles to ensure that all its kindergarten and fifth-grade students have their required physicals and immunizations.

Often, about 30 percent of the fifth-grade class at Garden Hills starts the school year without the required medical care, said Principal Cheryl O'Leary. More than 900 children throughout the district were out of compliance at the beginning of this school year, she said.

If students don't have physicals and immunizations by mid-October, the state requires they leave school until they receive them. To prevent that, the Garden Hills staff does whatever it takes to get kids to a doctor's office, including making calls and driving them there themselves.

"We've worked hard with parents to secure appointments with doctors," O'Leary said. "That's a lot of administrative time. That's valuable time to me. That time of year, where it's so critical to get school started on a good note, getting routines established and working to get kids settled in classrooms, is time better spent."

This fall, O'Leary won't have to worry so much about it though. Many of her students received their physicals and immunizations Friday, at a health clinic at the school. The first-time effort to provide the required medical care at the school was a collaborative effort involving Garden Hills, the University of Illinois College of Nursing program, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

"This is a very proactive measure to make sure our students are ready for the next school year," O'Leary said. "We know, of our children returning (for fifth grade), they are fully prepared and won't have to miss any school because of this. That's huge."

The health clinic was initiated by Luke Pelka, a senior in the nursing program and a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Pelka and his classmates, Kelly Weibel and Kim Buzecky, were required to do a class project to promote nursing to the community.

Pelka's fraternity has an established relationship with Garden Hills, providing tutoring and mentoring to students and giving them Christmas presents every year. Pelka contacted O'Leary to ask about the school's health needs.

The school physical issue came up, and Pelka and his classmates contacted the health department, which is providing the immunizations and the equipment needed for the physicals. They also got three nurses from the College of Nursing to conduct the clinic.

Penny Griglione, a social worker at Garden Hills, contacted the parents of all fourth-grade students, those entering kindergarten, and a handful who were missing required immunizations, asking if they wanted to have their children get physicals and immunizations at the clinic.

Griglione said she heard back from all the fourth-grade parents, and 45 children, most of them fourth-graders, were scheduled to be at the clinic Friday. The parents of the other fourth-graders told her they planned to make appointments with their doctors for physicals for their children.

She and O'Leary said it's difficult for parents to get an appointment if they wait until the fall, and many children at Garden Hills are from low-income families, with less access to medical care.

"I wasn't sure it was going to work, and they made it happen," O'Leary said of the nursing students and their project. "I'm just so overwhelmed that these kids did this. I was so impressed with the parents and the response. They were so grateful this was going to be done. It's one less thing they have to do to prepare their kids (for school)."

Pelka's fraternity is using money from fundraising projects to reimburse the nurses for their time and pay expenses of the health district. It will put the rest in a fund for the school to use in the future to help families get their children immunizations and physicals.

"By getting the physicals done, we can show families and the community and the campus what goes into nursing, what it is we do, what we're concerned with," Pelka said. "It shows compassion and collaboration and dedication to service."

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