Many corps members are drawn to City Year because of a passion for education. The achievement gap is a very real and very daunting phenomenon, and as enthusiastic and educated young adults, we have the responsibility to attempt to close this. While trying to make a difference in the realm of education unites our entire site, I chose to join City Year for a very different reason. I became a corps member because of my passion for healthcare.
The connection between health issues and education reform may seem distant. However, as a future physician, I believe that I could not have picked a better gap year opportunity than City Year. Corps members must be compassionate and empathetic, forging personal relationships with youth and their families each day. They must be hardworking and persistent amidst seemingly insurmountable obstacles, constantly honing the skills that will one day turn them into both competent and caring physicians.
Recently, my teammates and I were able to pass on my passion for healthcare to our students at Horace Cureton Elementary School through our first-ever Health Fair. The Health Fair was the culminating event of a Starfish Corps unit, our version of service learning curriculum, on healthy choices. For the past two months, students in our afterschool program have been learning about a wide range of topics—from the food groups to the dangers of smoking.
The Health Fair provided a unique experience for our students, whose education largely centers on literacy and mathematics skills. In low-performing schools such as ours, science and health education are severely reduced. Extracurricular opportunities are one of the few ways that our students learn about important health issues that will greatly impact their futures.
Each of our seven afterschool classes spent over a month becoming experts on a specific topic and planning a booth and activities for the other students and their families to experience. The Health Fair engaged over 120 students and 75 parents and family members, and was attended by representatives from the University of California Cooperative Extension Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program and the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health.
One booth focused on hand washing, where students put glitter on their hands to see the length of time needed to scrub off all of the “germs.” Another showed posters on dental hygiene and gave away toothbrush and toothpaste supply kits to each attendee. Students exercised and attempted to breathe through straws at a third booth, modeling the difficulties associated with emphysema as one of the dangers of smoking.
My class presented on the food groups and healthy eating, and students were invited to spin a fruit-and-vegetable prize wheel and make their own healthy trail mix. Parent literacy materials, including healthy recipes written in both English and Spanish, were also provided. After collecting a stamp from each booth, students and families received a recipe book and were entered into a raffle for prizes, from sports equipment to extra afterschool privileges.
As someone who hopes to one day become a pediatrician, the results of the Health Fair were truly inspiring. Not only did our students learn about very important health issues, they also greatly enjoyed the day.
After the Health Fair, one of my second grade students came to me at snack time to show me the food he had brought from home. He pointed to the box and said, “Look Ms. Alex, whole grains!” While this occurrence may seem unimportant, these little bits of knowledge will help inform our students to make healthy choices for the rest of their lives. And even if this event only spared a few students from the dangers of obesity or smoking, we still have made a world of difference and truly helped our community.
Alex Mihalek, Corps Member CYSJ