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Delaware's first elementary school wellness center opens

Delaware Public Media

Eisenberg Elementary School in New Castle officially opened its Wellness Center Thursday.

Colonial School District officials say it’s the first of its kind in Delaware.




It provides Eisenberg students, most of whom are low-income children of color, with access to healthcare and behavioral and social services, right in their school. Two old classrooms became a reception area, a counseling room, a check-up room, and a lab.

The center has been in the works for three years. It’s now fully staffed and equipped for use.

Services at the center are run by The Life Center, in partnership with Nemours, which according to school district officials outfitted the facility.

Shariyfa Rose, LCSW, heads mental healthcare at the center. She sees kids grieving the loss of a parent, or dealing with trauma after watching someone get arrested or shot. She helps kids talk it out, rather than bottle up their feelings, which she says can lead them to act out in the classroom.

“I always explain it to them like a soda can — if you keep shaking up a soda can, what eventually happens? And if you talk to my students they’ll say ‘Oh, you pop!’ Or ‘Like a balloon, it blows!’” Rose said.

Principal David Distler says Eisenberg now has fewer behavioral incidents.

“Four years ago, we had almost 1000 classroom referrals … This year, we have 135.”

He credits Wellness Center services, which have been available as the center ramped up over the past three years.

Sandra Jackson, NP, is the medical provider at the center, and was a school nurse for 22 years.

Credit Delaware Public Media
Sandra Jackson, NP, in Eisenberg Wellness Center

She says the Wellness Center differs from a normal school nurse’s office because it can provide immunizations, routine physical exams, even sutures—which is great for parents who can’t easily take off work.

“It’s difficult enough for some parents to get their children for care with a pediatrician anyway,” said Jackson. “Your child has a fever, call your doctor—that kind of gets lost sometimes. And sometimes you see the child come back to school with the same illness we sent them home for. So we’re able to follow up on things like that. ”


According to Colonial School District officials, parents can even video-call in to an appointment.

Service providers at the Wellness Center accept insurance. But according to Colonial superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey, over half of Eisenberg families signing up for the Wellness Center don’t have health insurance.

So, he says, the center helps families get the information they need to sign up. According to school district officials, no student has been turned away because they lack insurance.

Colonial School district Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey calls focusing on wellness in elementary schools dealing with problems on the “front end.”

“It’s mandated by law, every high school has a wellness center. But that’s not innovative, because a lot of times kids aren’t even accessing the wellness center because … they don’t see the value in it,” Blakey said. “So you start at an earlier age, you get them engaged in understanding about their own health, and how their health leads to their own success.”

Superintendent Blakey says he hopes to start wellness centers near other schools in the district. But not before the one at Eisenberg is fine-tuned into a replicable system.

According to Eisenberg principal David Distler, over thirty families at the school are homeless, and another twenty or so live in nearby hotels and motels. All Eisenberg students receive free breakfast and lunch.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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