This article was provided by Kids First Health Care's Development and Outreach Coordinator, Merrill Schmidt. Kids First Health Care is a current and past grantee of The Denver Foundation's Community Grants Program and has also been the recipient of grants from donor-advised funds here at the Foundation.
Between switching classes for the first time and dealing with serious concerns like bullying and depression, the transition to middle school can be challenging for many students. Fortunately for the students at Adams City Middle School (ACMS) in Commerce City, Nina McNeill, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with Kids First Health Care, is there to help them get through the rough times.
McNeill provides comprehensive health care and support to ACMS students at the Kids First Health Care school-based health center. The in-school health center’s services include well-child checks, vaccines, care for illness and injury, chronic disease management, sports physicals, and health education. In addition to addressing students’ health care needs, McNeill prioritizes listening to students’ concerns and teaching students how to be smart health consumers.
“We give them the opportunity to ask questions and be health advocates for themselves,” said McNeill. “The school-based health center allows students to make choices and advocate for their health and know that providers do want to listen to what their concerns are. And that we’ll listen to them. I think we all like to go and have someone listen.”
McNeill has been providing health care services to students in the Adams 14 School District for about 26 years. Through her career, McNeill has made a difference in the lives of thousands of students. Tonia Lopez, PhD, former patient and current Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education Manager in Adams 14, recognized the huge impact that McNeill has made at ACMS.
“Just the amount of love and care and attention that comes out of the closet that Nina works out of is pretty amazing,” said Dr. Lopez. “Just knowing how many weight checks and shots and physicals that she does is amazing. She’s the first person in the building and sometime she's the last person to leave. And to know how long she's been in the district, that's incredible because she's probably been doing that for decades.”
Over the years, McNeill has observed positive changes in the Commerce City community, such as increased access to health insurance and health care. On the other hand, she has seen an uptick in mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide. In light of these concerns, she encourages parents to prioritize talking to their kids on a regular basis. When the going gets tough, McNeill—along with the entire Kids First team—is happy to serve as a resource for parents navigating the adolescent years.
“We’re here to support them with any questions they have,” she said. “So we’re not only here for physical illness but any other concerns that they have and with academics, too. If they’re healthy students, then they’re better learners.”
About Kids First Health Care
Kids First Health Care is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of infants, children and youth. Established in 1978, Kids First opened the first school-based health center in Colorado and currently operates eight school-based health centers in Adams County. Kids First also provides school nursing services in two school districts and helps families with Medicaid and CHP+ enrollment as well as other resources. For more information, visit kidsfirsthealthcare.org.