Reflections on the Stay Well Learn Well® news conference

The day was gloomy and a little cold at Lennox School District, which surprised me because all along the news conference event planning group – which included staff from Lennox School District, T.H.E. Clinic and LACEF – had been anticipating a warm, and possibly even very hot, day… given that it was mid-September and the summer’s heat was still lingering. Now, here we are and it’s suddenly fall-like and we’re wondering if we should fetch umbrellas from our cars.

Driving down the freeway, drizzle dampened my windshield. As my car’s wiper blades were sweeping the water away… my thoughts were centered on the canopy I had ordered for the event refreshments area. I was thinking that we now need that canopy covering, not to shield our guests from the hot sun, but possibly to keep our guests dry with the pesky drizzle coming down.

I arrived at the Lennox School District early – about 9:45 am – to make sure that everything was going as planned. I had the Stay Well Learn Well® banner and I still wasn’t sure if it was going to be permanently affixed to the clinic building, or if we were going to have to come up with some other creative manner for displaying our new logo for our important new initiative in school-based healthcare for students and neighborhood residents.

I arrived. The parking lot was empty, but I saw people at work. The canopy I had ordered was up… hooray… and the other banner for the home of the future dental clinic was being attached to the canopy. The podium was in place and all I had to do was stay out of the way.

Within 30-minutes, there was a buzz of activity all around the Lennox School District and the T.H.E. Clinic in Lennox as people started to arrive, excited about what was happening that morning.

Groups of two’s and three’s were scattered throughout the driveway, all introducing one another and sharing why they were there. Among the early arrivals were members from LACEF’s Board of Directors, T.H.E. Clinic’s Board of Directors, Lennox School District, community and neighborhood organizations, local churches and PTA members. Everyone’s excitement was palpable.

Guests I spoke with talked about the important partnership with LACEF and what we were going to be able to do together to reach many families and their kids through this school based health clinic conveniently located at their school site. Emy Raphael and Dr. Pamelyn Close from LACEF’s Board of Directors were happily chatting with many of our guests and also reconnecting with old acquaintances in the education and health fields.

While I wasn’t in many of their conversations for a great length of time – I was filled with the nervous energy you have when an important even is coming to fruition… though I hope it didn’t show – I could hear in their voices a genuine thrill to see this new chapter in LACEF’s history unfolding before them and them recognizing the great possibilities moving forward for LACEF, children and teens and L.A. County’s school communities.

The real thrill of the Stay Well Learn Well® news conference event for me was seeing the sea of blue descending! The wave rolling into view was about 30 3rd graders from Jefferson Elementary School dressed in blue shirts and marching in formation with their teachers.

They were arriving to witness and participate in our Stay Well Learn Well® news event. They were happy to be there – probably because they were out of class for a short spell, or maybe it was the promise of receiving (healthy!) cookies at the end of the event.

Whichever it was, the kids were smiling and chatty and happily posing for photographs. Their arrival at the scene of our event reminded me of when I was a teacher and underscored for me and all our guests why we were there doing what we were doing with Stay Well Learn Well®.

I had a chance to talk with the kids for a bit and we wound up talking about the importance of learning different languages. I shared with them a little about going to France while I was in college and how many languages I knew… to which the kids were eager to say how many languages they knew – two languages… three languages… and even… four languages! One little girl was teaching her class to speak Armenian and a little boy sang the ABC song in French.

With the arrival of LACEF’s Board Chair Cynthia McClain-Hill, we quickly began the news conference. Throughout the speeches given, the theme that came through loud and clear was gratitude for the opportunity to expand the health services of the clinic, open a new dental clinic and great excitement about the possibilities.

As our speakers attested, health in schools has been moved off of the public agenda gradually over the past decades, and I am proud that LACEF’s work is again making the health of schoolchildren and its relationship to learning a part of public discourse and action.

For me it was simply thrilling to see all of the people who came out in support of our Stay Well Learn Well® launch and being thrilled to hear the words of praise, and humbled to receive words of thanks from the families that will benefit from our efforts.

Letty Bustillos
October 19, 2011

Stay Well Learn Well® School Health Center news conference at Lennox School District’s T.H.E. Clinic in Lennox

It was an overcast day… a little cooler than it had been all week with dark low clouds and drizzle adding an unexpected specter of rain on a September 16th morning. Initially people were standing around awaiting the start of LACEF’s big event… the announcement of our Stay Well Learn Well® School Health Center Initiative. Our guests were lamenting the brisk change in the soon-to-be fall weather and wondered barely aloud whether or not it would rain before the press conference started.

When the students from Lennox School arrived, the atmosphere of the whole event dramatically changed. It became more charged… more exciting. It became real. In the faces of these cute, sweet youngsters, we could see firsthand why we were launching this hugely important school-based health initiative. I could see how the adults responded… they immediately seemed to perk up.

Once our news conference was underway, a degree of seriousness came over our assembled special guests comprised of school district officials, community residents, teachers, health practitioners and elected representatives. But even during the various speeches, having the school children there gave the event an added joy and youthful energy, and a few of the speakers were able to persuade the children to participate during the presentation.

Many of the people with whom I spoke were so thrilled that this clinic was opening – especially the full-service dental clinic that would soon be built behind the health clinic in a renovated Lennox School space.

Lennox School officials commented that while medical care for elementary, middle and high school students is critically important, students’ need for regular dental check-ups and care is often overlooked. They said when you think of a child with a toothache, who can’t concentrate in class because of the pain, you realize why good dental care and prevention takes on a whole new meaning and level of importance.

I spoke with Joann Isken, the Asst. Superintendent of the Lennox School District. Joann expressed the need to have these school-based health clinics available to community residents in partnership with the schools. She stated that by providing health access to their students and their parents, Lennox School District would be giving access to the community as a whole. Joann said she wanted the school’s clinic to be viewed as a place for everyone.

Another guest I spoke with commented on the ability for the community to walk to the clinic from their homes nearby, a convenience that was greatly welcomed because many of the residents in the school’s neighborhood didn’t always have access to transportation.

In fact, while we were all standing outside the clinic several members of the community were walking by, taking walks with their children, and they stopped by the Stay Well Learn Well® news conference event to find out what was going on. Once it was explained to these mothers that the clinic would be open for their children and for themselves, they were very excited.

During the tour of the clinic, many commented favorably on the available space inside the Lennox School facility. Many people remarked that most doctors’ offices don’t have the amount of space that the clinic was providing. When L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas arrived, the excitement level increased. Everyone I spoke with expressed how the clinic was much needed and the need for more clinics throughout the County was great.

The overall impression from the children, superintendent and clinic workers that I received was one of pride and gratitude. They were proud that the medical clinic and dental clinic would be serving them and their community, and grateful that they were being recognized for their efforts.

Dawn D. Turner
October 11, 2011