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Each year, hundreds of Penn students tutor and mentor Sayre High School students in West Philadelphia.

While some help improve SAT scores and GPAs through the Netter Center for Community Partnership’s academic programs, others engage in health-based community service through the Bernett L. Johnson Sayre Health Center, a full-service primary care facility located on site.

Focusing on community health

The health center at Sayre is open to all community members and charges based on patients’ ability to pay.

The health center is not run by Penn, as it was launched as its own nonprofit organization following a request of Sayre’s then-principal and the community, according to Netter Center Associate Director Cory Bowman. However, the University has “poured in a number of resources to make [the health center] a possibility.”

Many of the health center’s doctors come from Penn Medicine’s department of Family Medicine, Peer Health Education Coordinator Gillian Bazelon said.

Penn Med also helps to pay the health center physicians’ salaries and sends various medical students to make rotations there each month, Bazelon explained.

Third-year Penn Med student Elliot Rabinowitz is currently on a four-week medical rotation at Sayre.

Rabinowitz said he screens patients before their appointments and works with physicians to treat them — the typical responsibility of a medical student.

Many of the patients he treats have “been marginalized and haven’t been getting the care they deserve,” he said, adding that 80 percent are on Medicaid.

Rabinowitz added that his experience at Sayre has encouraged him to consider “how cost and insurance plays into medical care.”

In addition to Penn Med students, students from the School of Nursing and the School of Social Work and Social Policy volunteer at the health center.

Bazelon said the health center’s administration is working to develop more opportunities for Penn students to be involved.

“We’re committed to making these experiences meaningful for students and making them feel like they’re part of something exciting,” she said.

Netter Center Director Ira Harkavy stressed Sayre’s strength in addressing community health issues.

“We’re working together on how to improve the health, the well-being and the education of an entire community,” he said.

A national movement

In addition to coordinating the University-Assisted Community Schools model on-campus, the Netter Center supports schools across the country that are interested in replicating its model, Bowman said.

Since 1993, Joann Weeks has served as the Associate Director for Replication at the Netter Center, a position which is “focused on the adaptation of University-Assisted Community Schools,” she said.

“We’ve done trainings and workshops, conferences, site visits ... to help people learn more about the work we’re doing,” she added.

Among other projects, the Netter Center has assisted in the creation of a center for Community Schools in New Jersey and worked with Atlantic City public schools, Bowman said.

Currently, Weeks is collaborating with the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa to create a regional hub for outreach work in the southwest.

At its peak, the Netter Center worked with 23 other universities on replication projects, Weeks said.

Even after officially completing their work with the center, Weeks added, many of these schools have “continued to do extensive work, grow and flourish.”

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