The federal government is giving Alexandria City Public Schools $380,000 to provide three low-income elementary schools with the kind of health services that have been linked to better grades and attendance in low-income communities.

The school system will use the grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to buy and staff a truck that will visit elementary schools, providing free primary medical care, basic dental care and mental health services to about 2,200 students.

"I know firsthand the health needs of students in these communities, and I witness daily how a little extra care can mean the difference between succeeding and failing academically," said Robin Wallin, health services coordinator for the school district.

The elementary schools that will receive the free health services include William Ramsay, Patrick Henry and John Adams. At least two-thirds of students at each school are economically disadvantaged, and at least one-third of students speak English as a second language.

The funding is part of $80 million made available through the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health care legislation. The grant is based in data that show increased access to health care reduces the number of school days children miss, improving their grades and graduation rates.

In California's San Mateo County, 38 percent of students who had access to mental health services improved their scores on standardized math tests, compared with 26 percent of students who did not use the services.

Children's National Medical Center currently operates a van that serves 4,000 District students in Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8. As of this school year, the hospital is also providing free mobile medical and dental care to students at 175 Prince George's County public schools. And while a doctor's office on wheels may seem unusual to some, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker says they're working.

"We feel this convoy of care should be delivered directly to our students, and without a doubt, mobile units are an effective way of implementing these services," Baker said.

The next step for Alexandria is to develop a planning committee and identify which providers they'll hire to staff the truck. School officials expect the mobile medical services to be available as early as next fall.