Open Accessibility Menu

ThriveKids Student Wellness Program: Changing the health of a generation begins in school

ThriveKids Student Wellness Program: Changing the health of a generation begins in school

In October 2021, Children’s Hospital New Orleans launched ThriveKids Student Wellness Program, an innovative outreach initiative focused on improving academic and health care outcomes for children.

Over the last year, Children’s Hospital has made a significant commitment to school wellness. We have proactively partnered with schools throughout Louisiana to provide the necessary resources to address health issues, medical disruptors, and other barriers that can negatively impact classroom attendance. In essence, the program offers a care management program for students through clinical staffing solutions, care coordination, and school stakeholder education.

Health outcomes today for the children of Louisiana are lagging behind national benchmarks – and we wanted to be part of the solution. ThriveKids is about getting outside of the hospital walls and creating environments of health where we function as a school health department for medical and mental health care needs.

As the first program of its kind in Louisiana that aims to get the right resources, to the right kids, at the right time, we provide various medical and behavioral health services, staffing support, and educational resources for more than 180 school campuses across Jefferson and Orleans parishes, consisting of more than 100,000 students combined. We have upwards of 40 staff members working as school social workers, school nurses, or care managers – and that number is growing as we continue to recruit and expand.

Since the ThriveKids program began, we have experienced exponential growth. We have an incredible team committed to the mission which has opened a new world for children, families and educators.

Last year alone:

  • Our school nurses and school social workers improved student-to-staff ratios for medical and mental health needs for 10,000 children
  • Our mental health team performed two hours on average a day on student suicide assessments, providing support in times of crises
  • During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we supported 3,000 schools and early learning centers with COVID-19 guidance resources, touching all 64 parishes with technical support. We ensured students and educators statewide had what they needed to safely return to school.
  • We offered continuing education webinars to schools by physicians and subject matter experts, such as identifying DSM-IC diagnoses in school-age children, identifying and responding to human trafficking, and managing several chronic conditions in school setting like diabetes

These milestones merely scratch the surface of what we do. ThriveKids is such a powerful resource because we meet families and kids where they are. Bringing these services into the schools is something that we needed in our community for a very long time.

How did it all begin?

Children’s Hospital has a longtime reputation of providing financial and medical support to region-wide schools in Louisiana, involving up to $5 million annually for services that come at no cost to schools, but the COVID-19 pandemic showed us how much more we could do as an organization to address children’s physical and mental health outside of traditional medical settings.

While we didn’t have a formal school-focused student wellness program in place, we began to ask ourselves, “What could a school health and wellness program look like in our current setting?”

When we first started collaborating at our physician business planning sessions to consider what this program would look like, it was timely for us because of the pandemic. We assisted many schools and families who needed our help. We had an audience of around 3,000 educational institutions statewide who benefitted from our COVID-19 services, and this is what essentially tipped our “aha” moment that we should invest more in this wellness program. What was enlightening about this entire process was the academic experts realized they were not the health care experts and the health care experts realized they were not the academic experts – this evolving partnership was long overdue in our community.

Through our collaborations with school leaders, we were able to identify many unmet needs that were taking place in the school setting. We uncovered an unbelievable number of medical and mental health disruptors that were holding kids back from reaching their potential. Since we were a reliable information source for COVID, people began saying, “I have questions about a child with complex medical care or I have a child with behavioral issues.” We expanded our overall approach to help accommodate those needs as well.

It was important to us that we bring health care services into the school setting so children could be in school as much as possible. We knew accessing these services in the schools would have a significant and positive impact on student attendance and ultimately improve academic and health care outcomes.

That’s how ThriveKids started. It began with an idea and has flourished into something amazing!

How is our program unique and impactful?

Many hospitals across the nation partner with schools one way or another, but what makes ThriveKids stand out on a national scale is the robust nature of offerings the program makes available to students.

ThriveKids is a comprehensive community-based program that provides comprehensive medical and mental health resources for kids, involving: school-based virtual care, mental and behavioral health services, sports medicine, chronic care management, a dedicated nurse hotline for school wellness and virtual care, and education and resources for schools across Louisiana.

The staff assigned to the schools – namely mental health professionals and school nurses – are full-time employees of Children’s Hospital. Through our partnership with Jefferson and Orleans Parish Schools, staff are assigned to a specific school campus or multiple school campuses. Of the 34 staff members on our team, most staff are in the field every day providing mental health services, social work services, or school nurse support. Through the ThriveKids wellness program, we support all of Jefferson Parish Schools, as well as individual charter organizations and private schools within Orleans Parish.

We also offer a care management team which has been a key differentiator for us. Comprised of nurse navigators and social workers, our team coordinates care for these families by arranging specialty care appointments for children when we identify a need in the school. By having a team to facilitate care coordination, we can remove numerous barriers that interfere with kids trying to see a subspecialist.

Here are just a few testimonies of how ThriveKids is making a meaningful difference in the lives of students:

"A ThriveKids school nurse reached out to our care management team about a student who had failed a vision screening test. When we reached out to the family via translators, we learned the child missed 90 percent of her clinic appointments due to various challenges and needed to see multiple specialists. The family didn’t speak English, didn’t have transportation, and were unaware that they qualified for Medicaid. Rather than dismissing them as no-shows, ThriveKids arranged insurance coverage along with a transportation and meal voucher. On that same day, we scheduled three physician appointments. The girl was back in class shortly thereafter with glasses and hearing aids and she was ready to learn."

"ThriveKids learned about a 6-year-old student who was walking on his tippy toes. His teacher asked him to sit back down on his heels because she thought he was misbehaving. But because our school nurses and social workers for ThriveKids were on campus, they wanted to see if this was a behavioral issue or something else. Our team scheduled an appointment for the child with an orthopedic specialist two weeks later. It turns out this student had a bone deformation that impacted his feet and his posture all the way up to his hips. He is scheduled for surgery to correct this orthopedic problem. We were also able to identify him as a candidate for an autism evaluation because of his speech and developmental delays. If we didn’t intervene, the child would go home with a disobedience slip in his backpack. But we were able to identify this child’s medical and mental health needs to ensure he got the right care he needed. We also were able to empower the teacher with resources and information on how such clinical diagnoses can present in the classroom, to not only further their success as an educator but to help them feel fully supported in the challenging, hard work they do for the community."

Along with facilitating medical care, behavioral health has become a top focus for ThriveKids as well. Many kids are struggling with mental health issues across all age groups and demographics. Here is another great example of how we identified an immediate need and stepped in to provide support.

"A ThriveKids school social worker identified an elementary student who demonstrated signs of suicidal ideation from an unfortunate history of sexual abuse. Because our team was in that school during this student’s moment of crisis, we promptly coordinated care from the school to the emergency room to the Behavioral Health Center. After discharge, the student was equipped with plans for continual counseling and resources."

How is ThriveKids building a healthier future for the next generation?

I am inspired by the progress we are making together with our school partners to advance the health of our students in Louisiana. We showed up with a resource and it has flourished in the best way possible.

Our ThriveKids Student Wellness Program at Children’s Hospital has provided $5 million worth of educational resources at no cost to schools every year. By delivering health services directly to children at school, we, along with our school partners, are empowering the health and well-being of the next generation.

When you hear positive feedback from students, their families and school leaders telling us, “Thank you for being there for our kids when they need it the most – where have you been?” or “Thank you for doing the right thing to help our kids achieve their best,” it affirms that what we do matters, and our efforts are appreciated.

This is something that has been needed in our community for a while, and it’s here to stay beyond the emergency. We are at the beginning of something great. I see a brighter future ahead for our kids.

For more information about ThriveKids Student Wellness Program at Children’s Hospital New Orleans or job opportunities, please visit our website at or email the program directly at