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Preschool partnership develops healthy families

Kaiser Permanente works with a new preschool to support Hayward area children and their families.

As part of its commitment to creating healthy communities, Kaiser Permanente is partnering with The Primary School, a new tuition-free preschool serving Hayward, California, children that offers wraparound educational, medical, and support services to low-income families.

With a grant of $600,000 over 3 years, Kaiser Permanente is helping the school coordinate seamless, ongoing medical and wellness care for its 48 families, said Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Paul Espinas, MD, who is also the medical director for the school.

“This effort is about creating an integrated system of care and resources to wrap around families,” said Dr. Espinas. “Think of it this way: A child’s caregivers, doctor, and teacher meet on a regular basis to ensure that all goals are met, whether they are educational or health. So, if we see a child in the emergency department with an asthma attack, the teacher can help the family monitor for symptoms and medication usage.”

Kaiser Permanente pediatricians and the school also partner on routine child wellness such as mental health, developmental screening, obesity prevention, oral health, and nutrition. Other partners like Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center offer services such as on-site dental checkups.

The school, which receives funding from the California State Preschool Program, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and other partners, serves families earning less than 85% of the state median income. A family of 4 would earn less than $89,000 a year to qualify.

The Primary School is the organization’s second school. The first school opened in 2016 in East Palo Alto and now serves more than 300 students.

The new school serving Hayward children opened last year using a distance learning curriculum co-designed with parents. Forty-eight 4-year-olds began this school year at a temporary site in San Leandro. Long-term plans, however, are for a permanent school site in Hayward.

Filling a need for coordinated care

The need for coordinated medical and social care among children in the area the school serves is high. In some neighborhoods, up to 40% of children live in poverty, and the rate of asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations for kids under age 6 is 50% higher than Alameda County as a whole, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.

In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Espinas said Kaiser Permanente and The Primary School are working to create wireless internet spaces for families to conduct telemedicine appointments, so they don’t have to visit a medical office if they are able to avoid it.

The Primary School preschool teachers Hulises Barcelo, left, and Maria Rangel ready their classroom for the start of in-person school.

“This is more about coordination of care rather than doing on-site care,” said Dr. Espinas. “Are you up to date on your physicals, your immunizations? We’re working hard to make sure we have a plan that optimizes success for these families.”

An on-site parent wellness coach at The Primary School meets regularly with families to set health goals, build confidence and help them navigate available family support services.

“If we hear from the medical group that a child needs an evaluation, the wellness coach helps the family navigate that,” said Executive Director Ashley Pletz.

Medical care, however, is just one of the services The Primary School offers in addition to education.

“Our main goal is to put parents and children at the center of different support systems in early childhood,” said Pletz. “Parents are dealing with poverty, systemic racism, language barriers, and housing insecurity — all that makes focusing on learning very difficult. We help them access resources such as food, employment, housing, and health care, so they are not alone. This support outside the classroom means kids can come to school ready to learn.”


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