MEDFORD, Ore. — When kids are experiencing challenges at home, it’s hard for them to do their best at school. At Jackson Elementary in Medford, many students face hardships. More than 90 percent of the school’s students live in poverty, and about 12 percent are experiencing homelessness.
Staff members at Jackson Elementary are helping families identify and address those barriers through a new kindergarten home visiting program.
“Imagine if we could stop a leak before it rotted the roof,” says Denise Jensen, the student management lead at Jackson Elementary.
That analogy explains the aim of the program. By finding ways to address problems at the beginning of the student’s education, the child can be set up for school success before those problems multiply.
Jensen is a part of the Jackson Family Success Team. She plans to visit the homes of each of the 58 kindergartners at Jackson Elementary this school year. She got an early start this summer, covering more than half of the students before the school year started.
Jackson Care Connect, a Coordinated Care Organization providing care for Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) members in Jackson County, is assisting Jackson Elementary’ s home-visiting program through a 2018 Community Health Improvements Plan (CHIP) grant. The $10,000 grant supported costs for home visiting time, supplies and training.
The program has several goals. First, the visits assess where the students are academically, socially and physically. Since about 65 percent of students at Jackson Elementary did not have access to high quality early learning prior to kindergarten, the school gives each family a backpack loaded with early learning materials, and books the families can keep and read together.
Equally important, the home visit identifies any barriers the families might be facing, and connects families to resources. By seeing the family in their living environment, staff can openly discuss and identify obstacles they might have. The school relies on the community network of services, including Maslow Project, ACCESS, Southern Oregon Goodwill and Mercy’s Gate, to get families in need connected to help.
Often there are health care issues that need to be addressed too. The Jackson Elementary team helps connect families to health care, so they can make sure children have the immunizations they need to start school, along with physical, dental and mental health care. Students can also access the school-based health center provided by La Clinica.
“We consider the health of the whole child. Our goal is to reduce unwarranted barriers in order to equipment the student with school readiness skills to be successful, happy and healthy,” says Marisa Poling, principal of Jackson Elementary.
Starting the kids’ school experience with a personal visit like this means new families have a familiar face when their student starts school. Jensen says this makes for a stronger overall school experience, as kids and parents alike start to build trust with the school and staff.
Jensen and the team says their passion is in working with families, and in making sure they are positioned to support their children.
“The success of the student starts with the family,” Jensen says. “We’re changing the world, small bits at a time.”
Jackson Care Connect supports the school and Jackson Elementary families in multiple ways.
“Families don’t always know what support systems are available,” says Nancy McKinnis, Jackson Care Connect’s community engagement coordinator. Jackson Care Connect staff are often present at school events, and serve as a resource for health questions. For families who have Jackson Care Connect coverage, staff can help guide families to health care, like making sure they are established with a primary care provider, and connecting them to dental care and mental health.
Jackson Care Connect also provided funds for diapers for the school’s Family Neighborhood Center, a resource families in need can get basic supplies. For families with younger children at home, or a baby on the way, Jackson Care Connect members can connect to the Starting Strong program.
For information about Jackson Care Connect, contact Sara King Cole, 503-416-7791, firstname.lastname@example.org or Elise Burke, 503-416-3736, email@example.com.