For more than 20 years, the school-based health center at Evanston Township High School has provided health-related services, advice and referrals to ETHS students. Julie Holland, M.D., who has been the primary physician there since the beginning, gives an annual report to the School Board and administration about the number of students who come to the health center and the services they request.

In a turnabout, at the March 11 District 202 School Board meeting, Dr. Holland, with Ida Joyce Sia, R.N., reported the six areas that cause them most concern, then asked the Board members and administrators two questions: “What do you think of when you think of the health center?” and “How can we do a better job?”

“Vaping, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), obesity, eating disorders, depression and anxiety,” Dr. Holland said, are the student problems that most concern the staff. She said the health center staff, as well as teachers in health and physical education classes, try to educate students about the dangers and long-term effects of these problems.

“A lot of vaping companies are owned by tobacco companies who want to get new users,” Dr. Holland said. “Nicotine levels are much higher [than in cigarettes] and much more likely to cause addictions.”

A nationwide study by the University of Michigan in 2018 found that 40% of twelfth-graders self-reported vaping either tobacco or marijuana, Dr. Holland said. “We try to educate students about the dangers of vaping.”

Cook County has the second-highest chlamydia rate in the nation, second to Los Angeles County, California, said Ms. Sia. The rate of gonorrhea is rising, as are incidents of HIV and syphilis.

“‘GYT’ is how we educate students [about STIs],” Ms. Sia said. “GYT is ‘Get Yourself Tested,’ but we also say ‘Get Yourself Talking.’ We are trying to eliminate the stigma about entering the health center.”

“Obesity is really a huge health issue,” Dr. Holland said, with about 18% of grade-school students and 20% of high-school students considered obese. In the Midwest and South, the obesity rate of the entire population is about 35%. The good news is that among 2-5-year-olds, the obesity rate is leveling off. “Prevention is 90% of what we can do for people,” she said, adding that obesity results in many other health problems later in life.

Anxiety and depression are the two main mental-health issues, Ms. Sia said, “We work closely with the social workers, school psychologists and teachers” to help address these. 

Board member Jude Laude said, “My concern is anxiety and depression and their relationship to trauma. Have you been able to partner with families?”

“The social worker at the health center is chair of the Health and Safety Action Team of Evanston Cradle to Career,” Ms. Sia said. “She has held workshops on ACEs [Adverse Childhood Experiences].”

“There are other good resources in the community,” Dr. Holland said.

Phoebe Liccardo, the student member of the Board, said “Obesity, vaping, etc., are the flip side of anxiety and depression. Is there any education [offered] on that?”

“We do screening about eating habits, etc.,” said Dr. Holland.

Ms. Sia added that students are invited to come to the health center once each week to have lunch and talk.

In answer to Dr. Holland’s questions, Board members said variously they think of the health center as a great resource, a place for students to receive vaccinations and a place for preventive medicine.

Board member Mark Metz asked about capacity.

“We’re about 75% full most every day and have only two exam rooms,” Dr. Holland said. Service hours are “stretched out” because some sports doctors and medical professionals see students after school.

Board member Monique Parsons asked whether health center staff would reach out to middle school students, so they would know about the services before they came to ETHS, perhaps lessening the stigma of using the center.

“We do outreach to middle-schools,” Ms. Sia said. “We are also increasing our outreach to staff.”

All the Board members thanked Dr. Holland and Ms. Sia for their information and their services to ETHS students.

About the Health Center

The ETHS website offers this information about the ETHS Health Center: It is a partnership between NorthShore University HealthSystem, ETHS, and the City’s Department of Health and Human Services, with funding from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Health Center staff are employees of NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Health Center staff provide preventive care such as physical exams, immunizations, wellness/health education, gynecologic care and reproductive services, as well as diagnosis and treatment of acute illness and injury, diagnosis and management of chronic illness, lab testing and psychological support.

The Health Center charges a small fee for physicals and lab-testing to students with private health insurance. All other services are free. There are no out-of-pocket expenses for students who have Medicaid/All Kids. Immunizations are available only to students who qualify for the Federal Vaccines for Children program (including those with Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Health Plan, uninsured individuals and American Indian or Alaskan Natives). 

No student will be turned away because of inability to pay.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...