By Dylan Deprey
As students attempt to hold on to the last days of summer vacation, parents count the same days waiting to send their children back to school. Just like teachers finalizing lesson plans for their students, parents are gearing up to prepare their children for the upcoming school year.
The City of Milwaukee Health Department and an assembly of healthcare providers teamed up to offer families free healthcare and school supplies for the upcoming school year. The City of Milwaukee’s Health Department took to the hallways of North Division High School for the 16th Annual Back-to-School Health Fair, on Aug. 19, 2016. Students taking their first steps into a classroom and those preparing to their take last were able to receive immunizations, vision and dental screenings and even haircuts.
“Most important is we want to have healthy kids, but we also want to make sure kids are in school, and they can’t be in school if they are sick,” said Mayor Tom Barrett.
Along with the City of Milwaukee Health Department and United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County partners included: Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Children’s Community Health Plan, United Healthcare, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Molina Healthcare, MHS Health Wisconsin, and iCare Independent Health Plan.
Mark Rakowski, Vice President of Children Community Health Plan (CCHP), said that oral health issues were one of the main reasons children miss school.
“Poor oral health makes it hard for children to focus in school,” Rakowski said.
There were onsite dental hygienists to provide students with fluoride treatments and varnishes as well as a doctor to look over more severe cases. As always, students were also given a toothbrush to take home.
A free backpack and school supplies were available for any students who had up-to-date immunization records. Wisconsin State law requires school immunizations. Those who needed immunizations could make their way to the cafeteria to receive free vaccinations.
Mayor Barrett said that through partnerships with MPS and healthcare providers events like the Back-to-School Health Fair, immunizations in the city of Milwaukee had grown exponentially.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevon Baker said that the foundation of public health started with childhood preventable diseases.
“We want this to be the healthiest city in the country. The only way to do that is make sure our children are healthy,” Baker said. “It starts here, and it starts today.”
After being greeted by none other then the blue cookie devouring monster himself, North Division’s gymnasium had been transformed into a health fair. Booths ranged from Insurance companies to health care providers from around Milwaukee. While making the loop around the tables a group of kids huddled around a woman in a lab coat.
“Who do you think is sick in the class,” asks Beth Pfotenhauer, the Head Virologist at the Milwaukee Public Health Laboratory. Pfotenhauer was exhibiting how the lab tests for preventable diseases, and in this case it was students in a classroom.
“I love the interaction I have with the kids, and just to see them go ‘wow this is a science experiment that is so cool,’ but it is also applies to real jobs they see in their community that keep them healthy,” Pfotenhauer said.
Pfotenhauer said that she had worked many science fairs but this was her first health fair. She added that although people have different opinions on whether to vaccinate their children or not, the backpack incentive was a good opportunity for students.
Pfotenhauer said that there are risks with immunizations but the risks were slim compared to the diseases they prevented. She also mentioned that she personally had a reaction to a vaccination when she was younger, but does not regret being immunized.
“It is a personal choice to vaccinate or not vaccinate, but you are putting other people at risk as well,” Pfotenhauer said.