Inclusive Wellness Center Is an Oasis for a Neighborhood Left Behind

Last Updated by Nancy Rogan on

JUDY WOODRUFF: After years of neglect, parents in one of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods hoped that a new preschool would be built in their community. Instead, they got much more.

William Brangham recently visited there, and he is back again with this report.

It’s part of our weekly series Making the Grade.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Fish swim in giant tanks. Collard greens grow in abundance in a massive greenhouse. Down the hall, there’s a dentist’s office, as well as a mental health center. And at the other end of the building, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds run around like mad.

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Some might say it’s an unusual mix here in the heart of one of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods, but not according to the woman who runs the place.

LYDIA PRADO, Vice President, Mental Health Center of Denver: It’s taking a new approach to community well-being.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Lydia Prado is the driving force behind this place. It’s called the Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being.

LYDIA PRADO: My initial conversations were with two folks who had — together, they have over 80 years of residence in this community.

And just floated the idea, I want to take integrated care to the next level. I want to think comprehensively about health. I want to be able to talk about mental health, and went to talk to them about it, and it’s like, what do you think? And they’re like, oh.

But, you know, they were very honest about it. There are going to be challenges, but if anybody’s going to give it a shot — and we’re behind you.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For Prado, building partnerships early on was key. Heidi Heissenbuttel came on board early, bringing a branch of her Sewall Child Development Center to the new campus.

Sewall’s been a pioneer in what’s known as inclusive education, teaching children with special needs — that is, kids with autism or those with emotional or behavioral issues — and putting them in classrooms with their more typically developing peers.

Heissenbuttel says the evidence is clear that this approach works for all kids.

HEIDI HEISSENBUTTEL, CEO, Sewall Child Development Center: They learn to expect that every child learns differently, and they go on to their elementary classrooms, and they become advocates for kids who learn differently. And they will tell teachers, you need to work with that child, or why can’t he participate on the playground, or we want him in our group.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We observed three classrooms. Here, the Tigers have circle time. Then they moved on to center time, an hour when the children get to pick what they want to do, as teachers float through the classroom facilitating vocabulary-building and individual lessons.

One-third of the children here have some special need, some with diagnosed developmental problems. Plus, 40 percent of the kids here suffer from what’s known as toxic stress.

HEIDI HEISSENBUTTEL: Toxic stress is the result of poverty, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, just life’s circumstances, when you — when a family lives under stress.

And what the best treatment, for children to have loving, stable relationships in their lives.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Arnesha Poke’s son Adrian attends the pre-K, and she says this inclusive approach is important to her.

ARNESHA POKE, Parent: Instead of, like, separating the kids off and stuff, they need to all be together, so they can learn each other and learn each other’s emotional ways, and stuff like that.

LYDIA PRADO: In the community conversation, it was extremely important, this idea of inclusivity, because it was — it’s parallel to a community’s desire to be included and inclusive.

There’s a lot of experience of being separated out.

DIANE GREENBERG, Parent: I thought she would kind of fall in with the rest of the kids and just do — not have any problems, issues at all.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Diane Greenberg and her daughter Karai used to live in a homeless shelter. She says this preschool has been life-changing.

DIANE GREENBERG: I love this place because it helps me understand how to deal with that. It helps me understand how to help her.

 

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