Lisa Meadows charter schools

Bill Mendelsohn, director of Charter Schools and Partnerships at UMSL, worked with nursing alumna Lisa Meadows (center) and her colleagues at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital to secure a $500,000 grant through the hospital’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds program. The grant will help fund school nurses in five UMSL-sponsored charter schools through spring 2025. The positions are particularly important for the schools as they continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When public charter schools begin operating, they often have limited resources, leading to tough expenditure decisions. In many cases, it means student support positions – counselors and school nurses – go unfilled.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis Charter School Office and the St. Louis Children’s Hospital partnered to remedy that situation in five local, UMSL-sponsored charter schools. A grant through the hospital’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds program will fund school nurses in Arch Community School, The Biome, Lafayette Preparatory Academy, North Side Community School and the Soulard School.

In total, the grant is worth about $500,000 and will help fund the positions through spring 2025. Though after this school year, each school will have to partially fund the positions. They will take on greater financial responsibility each subsequent year.

Bill Mendelsohn, director of Charter Schools and Partnerships at UMSL, said the COVID-19 pandemic made securing this funding particularly important.

“More than ever with COVID, a school must have a nurse if it wants to provide in-person instruction,” Mendelsohn said. “Nurses educate the staff about protocols and proper mitigation of risks, and they know what to do if a child comes in coughing and sneezing or exhibiting other symptoms.”

Mendelsohn worked closely with Lisa Meadows, Crystal Nelson and Greta Todd at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Thurma DeLoach, the Charter School Office’s student support systems specialist, to develop the grant application.

It’s been a project several years in the making.

When Mendelsohn started at the Charter School Office in 2013, one of his major priorities was strengthening student support systems at UMSL-sponsored charter schools. The office made progress toward that goal in 2015 when it won a $1 million grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to place social workers in four schools for five years.

After that, the office turned its attention to school nurses. Mendelsohn said UMSL reached out to BJC HealthCare about the matter in 2016 because of the work affiliated Children’s Hospital had done with schools and underserved children.

“We spent two years developing a grant request for the Missouri Foundation for Health to place a nurse in four of our schools, but it didn’t work out,” Mendelsohn said.

It was only a momentary setback, though. Shortly thereafter, the hospital created its own foundation and launched the Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds program, which included a granting system. Mendelsohn worked with Meadows, Nelson and Todd, meeting several times a year, to craft the new proposal.

“This has been in the works, really, for four years,” Mendelsohn said. “We’ve been very persistent.”

Candidates are currently being interviewed for the positions, and while they will serve the five charter schools, they will be employees of Children’s Hospital. Their medical expertise will be valuable headed into the second half of the school year with the pandemic persisting.

The nurses will also be essential to any COVID-19 testing efforts. Missouri provides antigen test kits to public schools that apply. However, the minimally invasive nasal swab tests can only be administered by a health professional such as a school nurse.

“We believe these rapid antigen tests, in conjunction with other mitigation strategies, could be instrumental in helping schools provide onsite learning opportunities safely,” Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said.

The timing was serendipitous, but regardless, Mendelsohn is happy to achieve a longtime goal and help St. Louis students.

“We are feeling very pleased and thrilled,” he said. “I have tremendous gratitude for the Children’s Hospital foundation for funding this request.”

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Burk Krohe

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life
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