Student Learning Prevails Amid Pandemic in Genesee County
Health in Our Hands-Flint/Genesee Partners hosted a two-day virtual health summit to highlight middle school community action projects aimed at reducing the risk of critical community health issues.
Flint, Michigan – February 01, 2021 – Even faced with a pandemic and online learning, students in Genesee County have had the opportunity to learn about their health in science class. Atherton Junior High School, Flint Holmes STEM Middle School Academy and Montrose Kuehn-Haven Middle School students presented their findings from community action projects and recommendations for ways to prevent or reduce substance use disorder and Type 2 diabetes. The virtual health summits, attended by approximately 300 students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and leaders and health experts from the community, occurred on January 13th and 20th via videoconference.
Students have been studying the biology of Type 2 diabetes and substance use disorder (SUD) in a science curriculum called, “Health in Our Hands” (HiOH). The curriculum connects the science classroom to the community to give youth and adults an understanding of modern concepts in genetics. Students investigate critical community health concerns and use these real-world contexts to appreciate the importance of both genetic and environmental factors in their risk for disease. For their final project, students conduct a community action research project to improve their school or neighborhood to help prevent or reduce disease. As part of their projects, students conducted interviews of family members, their peers, and experts from Serenity House of Flint and the CRIM Fitness Foundation as means of data collection.
Students who studied SUD at Atherton and Flint Holmes STEM Middle School examined the research question, “How do risk and protective factors affect substance use disorder among family members and peers and in my community?” During interviews with experts, students from Flint Holmes STEM Middle School discovered the impact of family influence on help-seeking behaviors of individuals suffering from SUD. One student explained, “When the interviewee said that she decided to stay sober because of her baby, that showed me no matter what, she was willing to go through years of rehab just for the sake of her child. That's some real dedication.” Students from Atherton focused on the effect of peers: "My main takeaways are that SUD is a disorder that can have multiple causes and effects. Some causes could be peer pressure, family issues, and even the victim’s own emotions. Based on this, I can infer that everyone who feels and thinks are [sic] at risk for SUD.”
Students from both schools concluded that because SUD behaviors often start in middle school, more youth activities and substance use support focused on that age group are needed in school and community settings. Reflecting on their experience, one student said, “I learned that science isn't only about energy but it also helps us by explaining why drugs are bad and you shouldn't use them.”
Students from Montrose Kuehn-Haven Middle School who studied Type 2 diabetes researched the question, “How does knowing about added sugar affect future food choices?” by investigating the effect on students’ attitudes about healthy food and school menu choices. Using health communication techniques, the students developed and shared a PSA (public service announcement) about added sugar with fellow students. Students have already seen the impact of their research, reporting, “We spoke with our school’s Food Supervisor and told her our concerns about the amount of sugar in our school breakfast. Our school breakfast now has less sugar and more fruit and is much healthier.”
Students at Flint Holmes STEM Middle School and Atherton Junior High explored healthier choices at home. They examined nutrition labels on food items and conducted a “Banana Smoothie Taste Test” to look for ways to reduce added sugar in their diets. Flint students recommended: “Look at nutritional labels, stay away from junk food, work out, serve healthier lunches containing fruits and vegetables at school, and have community-driven fruit and vegetable distributions similar to water distribution.” Atherton students concluded, “There are many ways that we eat sugars everyday without knowing and it is important to know what is in the foods we eat in order to stay healthy…. We can’t control our genetics but we can control what we put into our bodies to help prevent diseases, especially diabetes.”
The Virtual Health Summits were organized by the Health in Our Hands-Flint/Genesee Partnership, a coalition of community, health, and education organizations dedicated to achieving success and sustainability of Health In Our Hands in Flint and beyond. Coalition members include Community Based Organization Partners of Flint, Atherton Community Schools, CRIM Fitness Foundation, Flint Community Schools, Genesee Intermediate School District, Greater Flint Health Coalition, Health Alliance Plan, Michigan State University-Extension, and University of Michigan-Flint Discovering Place. Health in Our Hands is a project of CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University funded by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health.
HiOH Presented at the American Public Health Association Virtual Annual Meeting
In October, Health in Our Hands (HiOH) was presented as part of an oral session at the American Public Health Association Virtual Annual Meeting. Renee Bayer, principal investigator, and Bianca Alexander, program coordinator, co-presented on behalf of an international team of researchers and Flint-area community partners.
The presentation, “Bridging science education and public health research perspectives to understand the impact of a community-inspired science curriculum”, described an evaluation framework that connects science education and public health research through community partnerships. The project is guided by the HiOH-Flint/Genesee Partnership, a collaboration of community, health, and education organizations dedicated to its success. Using a CBPR approach, partners envisioned a “Community of Practice” in which HiOH is the vehicle through which students and their families, teachers, and community members interact to share their concern for the health and well-being of young people and work together to improve their lives.
Tribute to Toby Citrin
In October, we paid tribute to Toby Citrin, our public health colleague and partner in Health in Our Hands, at the American Public Health Association Virtual Annual Meeting. Toby passed away in January of this year from a chronic respiratory illness. A lawyer by training, Toby served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. An articulate advocate of the need to include community members’ input in public health programs and policies, Toby was honored in this session organized by the Community-Based Public Health Caucus of APHA by his colleagues in academia and in the community. The session was attended by about 75 colleagues, family members, and dear friends.
In his honor, the Toby Citrin Memorial Fund for Youth Researchers was announced to support the attendance and participation of youth researchers in future APHA conferences. To contribute, visit the GoFundMe site: gofundme.com/f/toby-citrin-memorial-fund-for-youth-researchers
Health in Our Hands: Learning How to Teach Science Virtually
Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more and more classrooms are moving partially or completely online. The shift is creating many changes in the ways we think about learning; teachers in particular are having to adapt quickly in order to engage students virtually. The challenges of doing so were a main topic of discussion during Health in Our Hands’ professional learning workshop, which took place virtually at the end of July.
For those who may not be familiar, Health in Our Hands (HiOH) is a project led by CREATE for STEM, in association with several other education, health and community partners from the Flint/Genesee area. Using the science curriculum developed through the HiOH project, students learn about gene-environment interactions, natural selection, and evolution. Most importantly, they learn about these concepts by applying them to important community health issues that affect their lives, such as diabetes and addiction. For their final project, students conduct an action research project to improve their school or neighborhood to help prevent or reduce diabetes and addiction. Students present the results and recommendations at a Youth Health Summit to their peers, family and community. CREATE for STEM received funding for this project from the Science Education Partnership Award, National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
As an important part of implementing the curriculum in classrooms, the HiOH team has led professional learning (PL) workshops and seminars for participating teachers for several years. However, the workshop this summer marked the first time the PL was presented completely online. During the PL, the HiOH team led by research associate Consuelo Morales tried out many of the same virtual learning strategies with the teachers that they can use with their own classes, using technology such as Zoom and Jamboard.
“Hosting the workshop virtually really gave us insights into the challenges teachers are dealing with right now,” says Morales. “Almost all of the districts that currently use the HiOH curriculum are teaching remotely this semester, making these discussions an essential component of the workshop.” Many of the discussions included space for teachers to ask questions and strategize together about ways to approach the HiOH curriculum and their lessons in general, learning to use technology as a tool rather than a hindrance.
Despite the move to an online forum, the number of districts represented for the four-day workshop was even higher this summer than previous years. Teachers resoundingly said that they appreciated the opportunity to work through curriculum virtually and try out new strategies for teaching online.
When asked what she liked best about the PL, Ashley Booker, returning 8th grade teacher from Atherton Community Schools responded, “Seeing the curriculum in action and the facilitators! I was able to see the curriculum and how it's going to be enacted. Since we will start online this fall, we will be troubleshooting as we go. So, I appreciate the follow-up Professional Learning Community sessions.”
As teachers start using the HiOH curriculum in their classes this fall, the HiOH team will continue to host bi-monthly virtual learning sessions. These will give teachers an opportunity to discuss their experiences with HiOH in class, figure out what’s working and what isn’t, and build upon their understanding of the content as they move forward through the curriculum. It’s unclear how long classrooms will have to remain remote, but with supportive virtual learning opportunities like these, the future of online learning is bright.
HiOH is a project lead by the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University in collaboration with the Health in Our Hands-Flint/Genesee Partnership: Community Based Organization Partners of Flint, CRIM Foundation, Flint Community Schools, Atherton Community Schools, Genesee County Health Department, Genesee Intermediate School District, Genesys Health System, Greater Flint Health Coalition, Health Alliance Plan, Michigan State University (Human Medicine & Extension) and the University of Michigan-Flint (Discovering PLACE).
$1.2M NIH Grant Puts Health in the Hands of Students, Community
$1.2M NIH Grant Puts Health in the Hands of Students, Community
What controls your health?
It's a complicated question, but middle schoolers in the City of Flint and Genesee county area are able to answer that question, and more, with the Health In Our Hands project.
Now, they will be able to inspire even more change in their community.
The project is continuing thanks to a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award, or NIH-SEPA.
"The kids and their teachers who have participated in this project are amazing," said Renee Bayer, a specialist at the Michigan State University CREATE for STEM Institute and principal investigator on the grant.
Health In Our Hands, or HiOH, develops, tests and implements learning materials, blending classroom instruction and community-based learning. The goal is to give students and community members opportunities to understand, explain and apply ideas about health-related phenomena to their lives. Through these units, students investigate diabetes and addiction.
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