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Health project helps schools get in front of academic problems

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A health data project at some Indianapolis schools is helping school officials get ahead of academic issues by meticulously tracking how often students go to the nurse’s office and what they complain about.

The Paramount Health Data Project collects data from schools and can use it to figure out which students might need extra academic support — ideally before those problems actually show up in the classroom.

When a student goes to the nurse’s office, the nurse will log information about why the student was there, and school officials can regularly pull the data to find red flags.

If a student visits the nurse 10 times within a three-week period, for example, that can be a red flag because, regardless of what the health issue is, the student is missing time in the classroom. School officials can then work with teachers and, if necessary, parents to make sure the student gets whatever extra help they might need.

“This program is the best health intervention, next to quitting smoking, that we’ve seen in the last 20 to 30 years,” said Tommy Reddicks, CEO of Paramount Schools of Excellence, one of the first schools involved with the program.

The “academic cliff” at Paramount is seven nurse visits, Reddicks said, at which point school officials know they need to intervene.

There are also certain red flags that apply to some schools and not others, depending on geography and demographics.

Bridget Tucker, a nurse at Paramount’s middle school, said one of the school’s big triggers is dermatology — eczema, for example. She said dental issues are one of the triggers at more affluent schools.

“If we know as soon as that student has triggered that red flag, we can keep on them and make sure they have the resources here and at home that they need,” Tucker said.

Addie Angelov, co-founder and executive director of the project, started working with schools on lead poisoning in 2013 and noticed how difficult it was to find good data, so she and others began collecting data. The project included eight schools at the start of the pandemic, and data went as far back as 2013.

“We give schools great data so they can make really good decisions,” Angelov said.

Students who live in poverty get the majority of their health care from schools, Angelov said, and that can be a problem considering the limited resources schools have to work with. It’s difficult to know how many Indiana schools don’t have a nurse because the state only tracks the number of certified nurses employed by each district.

Schools that work with the project can use the data to apply for federal title funds to support their health care initiatives.

Ryan Gall, executive director of Victory College Prep, said his school recently got a nurse, and he’s looking forward to getting a better understanding of the data.

Anecdotally, Gall knows there are some students who go to the nurse often, but the school hasn’t been able to analyze the impact yet.

“This is one of those no-brainer things that feels like it should be in every school,” he said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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