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Late last month 200 people, most of them high school students in red T-shirts, advanced on the Illinois capitol building, chanting, “We are the advocates for SHCs.” School health centers, predominantly located in underserved areas, are like a doctor’s office within a school. On School Health Center Advocacy Day, students from across the state traveled to Springfield to advocate for school health center funding. Among the marchers were a dozen students from Evanston Township High School.

The event was organized by the Illinois Coalition for School Health Centers, a project of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition. “Too many people, especially children and teens, don’t have a place to receive preventive and primary care,” said Deputy Governor Cristal Thomas to the students. “And we know that the most convenient way for you to receive these services is to bring it to you, because if screenings, immunizations, mental health and other services are available in your communities and your schools, you are more likely to get them. …”

Last year alone, SHCs in Illinois saw more than 97,000 visits for medical, mental, oral health and health education services.

 “School health centers reduce the burden on our health-care system, saving an estimated $5.5 million per year by providing preventive care and reducing emergency room visits,” said Divya Mohan Little, project director at the Illinois Coalition for School Heath Centers. “These health centers play a critical role in the lives of children and adolescents whose families are experiencing hardships.”

”This day is very special for our students,” said Heide Cygan, public health nurse at the School Health Center in Evanston. “They get to see the capitol building and talk to their legislators about something that affects their everyday life – their health.