Youth Advocacy in New York: Moving the Needle for School-Based Health Care

By Fathima Lye, National Youth Advisory Council member

February needs no introduction in the New York school-based health world – it’s a busy time of year for everyone at local, state, and national levels as they prepare for Advocacy Day on February 6. The month of February is also well known in our field as National School-Based Health Care Awareness Month, an opportunity to recognize our success and raise awareness about how school-based health centers (SBHCs) are revolutionizing the way children and adolescents access health care services across the country.

For SBHC supporters in New York, Advocacy Day allows students and adults to speak out for certain policies that really hit home. It’s a special day where people from around the state go to the capital to support or speak about important issues the state is facing.

I traveled to Albany, NY in both 2016 and 2017 to participate in Advocacy Day. In 2016, we (Montefiore Youth Council) advocated for more school health center funding and expressed the importance of the SBHC model to students who access care in their health centers. Students shared their heartfelt stories and personal connections to their SBHCs. We explained to policymakers that more funding would allow SBHCs to run more efficiently and provide the highest level of care to students. Research shows that students with access to SBHCs are less likely to be hospitalized, are more likely to stay in school while taking care of their health, can find resources to manage a healthy body and mind, and can take advantage of the new services many SBHCs are providing, such as oral and vision care.

In 2017, our main advocacy goal was a Medicaid carve-out (Medicaid funds that are directly allocated from the state to the health center on a fee-for-service basis). In this model, SBHCs can bill the state directly for services provided and create a streamlined process for reimbursement that increases revenue. Due to our advocacy efforts, along with those of many other supporters, the state legislature continues to fund a number of SBHCs in New York. In fact, the NY state investment in school-based health care is the largest in the nation!  The lesson? We can truly create change when we advocate together.

This year, the Montefiore Youth Councils (MYC) in Bronx, NY geared up to put their advocacy skills in action. During our winter summit, Tanya Thompson from PreP Consulting prepped us on how to prepare our elevator pitches, social media do’s and don’ts, how to make the best first impression, and how to use best practices in our interviews. Armed with these skills, we actively engaged with legislators about school-based health centers as well as our advocacy projects throughout the school year. MYC, along with students from other SBHCs across the state, spent February 6, 2018 advocating for themselves, their peers, and their communities.

Advocacy Day is truly inspiring to take part in and witness. I got to see lots of students advance the same goal: to create a brighter and healthier tomorrow. I’m thrilled to see what other positive changes may occur after our voices united in the spirit of this year’s National School-Based Health Care Awareness Month theme, “Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies”!


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