Fifteen years ago, the principal of Caldwell Elementary School came to me and said, “Our children don’t feel well. Can you help us?”
The Church Health Center established a small clinic in a public school. It was clear children were coming to school ill-prepared to learn. I considered this to be a health problem. As a result, the Church Health Center began Perea, a high-quality preschool that is privately funded yet inside a Memphis public school (now in Klondyke Elementary). We put more than a million dollars a year into the education of very poor children and their parents.
The name, Perea, comes from the place where Jesus was when he said, “Let the little children come unto me.”
The performance outcomes of the children who attend Perea are outstanding. I would argue that Perea is the most successful preschool in Memphis. I am completely convinced of the value of pre-K for both educational reasons as well as improved health outcomes.
Many years ago we saw young children among the poor who didn’t know their given names. They had nicknames, like “Peanut.” I can treat Peanut for the next 50 years for problems that come about from getting an impoverished start, or I can help Peanut get a good start. Poverty often comes with lack of education, and the poor have a disproportionate amount of health issues.
At the Church Health Center we’re already offering an array of internships and a Church Health Scholar program for young adults figuring out their next steps. We know that the choices they make in their formal higher education will affect not only their own lives but also the health in body and spirit of the next generation of preschoolers. Education is on our radar, and the blip is moving toward the center. As we move forward, the Church Health Center will be even more involved in education, and not only for the youngest children.
We can do something to improve health outcomes. Let’s not forget that education, rather than clinical technology, is an effective first step for changing poverty levels, and that will lead to better health outcomes over a lifetime.