EAST PALO ALTO — Toothaches or asthma can cloud the minds of children who are eager to learn, but a new private school started by Dr. Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, might be just what the doctor ordered.
In East Palo Alto, a city with minorities and families living in poverty near the wealthy enclaves of Silicon Valley, The Primary School opened its doors this year to 51 low-income preschool students. It boasts an innovative curriculum that addresses children’s health needs as part of their educational experience.
“There are so many ways a school can really help a child be in their optimal frame of mind to be successful in the classroom that are way more common than what we traditionally define as special needs,” said Chan, a pediatrician and CEO of the school, in an exclusive interview.
The Primary School’s current students are 4 or 5 years old, but it continues to recruit more students and teachers. It will add more grades every year until it’s fully built out to serve 700 families in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park’s Belle Haven neighborhood. By that time, it will have 450 students from preschool to eighth grade and 250 kids from birth to 2 years old.
The school provides a free education for its students, who are selected through a lottery.
Across the nation, a growing number of schools such as the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York and publicly funded “community schools” also bring in health and social services, education experts say. And while some of these schools have seen success, the cost per child typically is expensive. Not all low-income communities have the resources to make it work.