Reforming Health Education Through Community

[Originally posted on the Feast on Good Blog]

Community Health Blog post imageimage via

Typical health class models are changing and growing through community input. Cities across the country are promoting social and community reform through health classes that go beyond the basics and help students make informed decisions about their lifestyles.

At first, local governments tried to address the need for health education. Every state in the United States has a different way of handling or recommending health education programs in public schools. Some states, like California, have specific guidelines for the topics that must be covered and when they are to be taught in schools, for example, HIV/AIDS prevention instructions between 7-12th grade and parenting education in 7th or 8th grade. Others are much less strict about the material and expected outcomes.

State funded health education programs are also facing major budget cuts. For some, health education in school is the first time they learn about nutrition, mental health, and negotiating healthy relationships with future partners.

Today, locally communities are building curricula to meet the needs of their students and provide up to date information about medical services. There are a number of great organizations like Yale’s Community Health Educators or the Peer Health Exchange that try to create safer spaces for young adults to discuss and learn about health issues like nutrition, STIs, and mental health. These programs target teens and young adults to give them tools to make informed decisions about their health.

Some communities have begun to answer the need for health education by pooling their own resources and building health curricula. Community Health Educators (CHE) was started 1999 when a teacher from Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven and a group of Yale students developed a comprehensive health curriculum for high school students. Today, CHE is a group of 150 volunteers, teaching health education courses in 24 middle schools and high schools in New Haven. The program regularly reevaluates its materials to make sure that they are relevant, up to date and ready for their audience. Teachers from the host schools are involved in the material evaluations and reform, to make sure it fits the audience.

CHE strives to give students tools to make their own choices about their health and relationships. Michael Solotke, a former Coordinator for the program, says that the curriculum “is designed to empower students with skills and knowledge to help them make healthy decisions throughout their lives.”

The presentation of the material may be just as important as the material itself. “We really value being able to teach on a peer-to-peer level,” says Katherine Rich, one of this year’s coordinators for Community Health Educators. Rich believes the peer relationships between educators and students helps open up conversations around challenging topics like sexual and mental health.

The Peer Health Exchange (PHE) grew out of the original CHE to address gaps in health education on a national level. Colleges in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and many other cities across the United States partner with PHE to provide similar comprehensive health education in schools that are also under resourced. PHE reports that 92% of their high school students said that they will use information from the program to inform their health decisions and another 68% said they had already used information from the program to make a decision regarding their health in the last six months.

The Peer Health Exchange is also growing quickly with the support of local communities: 97% of the principals in the schools that offer PHE programs said that they would recommend this program to other schools. New York City is one of the largest markets for the program. While Barnard College, New York University and Hunter College, among others, have already partnered with the program to send volunteers, PHE and CHE could always use more help.

Both programs rely heavily on volunteers who enjoy teaching and talking to students about health. Their biggest challenges lie in building relevant material that their students can relate to and finding the right educators to engage with these student groups. Interested in doing more? Check out what your local school district offers in terms of health education options and see how they are trying to grow this year!

By Diana Enriquez

Diana studies informal economies, social enterprises, and economic systems at Locus Analytics. She spends a lot of time exploring new neighborhoods, especially in Latin America.

Learning to Program!

In the spring, I decided it was time to understand a little bit more of the mechanics behind the analytics programs I was working on. I decided to learn some python.

I started with a weekend class with the NYC Data Science Academy (which I would highly recommend) and finished up the course with a project on a remittances data set I contributed to a few years ago. It was great to see what I could do with the data I had collected… even if it meant some really late evenings fighting with my computer and ultimately a lot of help from my programmer friends.

I have other friends working through programming classes and inspiring me to keep going with it, even when the going gets rough. Perhaps the funniest/most encouraging is my friend Kyra, who is a fellow informal economic researcher and beginner programmer. She runs a blog called How to Code a Sentence. (Side note: She’s also started this wonderful program called Snail Mail, check it out!)

Since then, I’ve been digging into some programming textbooks, going to more of the General Assembly Python classes, bothering my boyfriend about books that communicate the thinking behind computer algorithms to non-Caltech-Computer-Science-students (he’s working on finding me something), and trying to learn more about the thought processes behind the language.

It fascinates me because it is so different from the way that I think through problem solving and conceptualizing my projects. I am really enjoying developing my tool set, even when it feels clunky and awkward and requires a few hours of me staring at a terminal page trying to understand what is happening.

If you’re looking for an interesting side project, learn to code! I’m having a great time!

Visual Storytelling (from the Feast on Good blog)


Visual Storytelling, Diego Rivera Mural 1
image via

Growing up in Mexico, scenes from Diego Rivera’s murals in the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City were often copied into storybooks. These murals were a crucial piece of Mexican history as the country transitioned from revolution to a unified nation. It helped a population that spoke hundreds of languages piece together aspects of a shared past. This type of visual storytelling created timeless cultural pieces that allowed me to explain these stories beyond my community; I constantly learned to communicate better from them.

Stories help us become bridges between our communities. We can create and recreate those “Aha!” moments, where a concept or an idea briefly connects us to the person sharing it with us. While these murals mean one thing for me and another for someone else, we are able to share the experience of the story.

Social media makes it easier for our communities to grow across time zones, requiring us to engage with a wide variety of learners. The key to success lies in the presentation of the material. Kickstarter helps independent storytellers produce films that contribute to awareness/educational campaigns, like Preston Stringer’s “LGBT Queerstory: a Gay History Web Series.” This project tells stories about the Gay rights movement through claymation to encourage others to keep fighting for equality.

Visual storytelling is also making important strides in classrooms: one teacher, Aaron Reedy, tweeted that the lesson he gave in his biology classes on sex determination only reached about 1000 students in the 7 years he offered the class. After he produced a video version of his lesson on TED-Ed, he was able to reach 13,000 viewers in 3 days. The TED-Ed brings teachers together to make learning fun and engaging for all kinds of learners. Other platforms like InfoViz also take on concepts like the elements through playfully animated videos,designed to help students engage with the material.

How to feed the world? on Vimeo.

Similarly, businesses like Bridgewater produce videos that explain the diversity of the “economic machine” in 30 minutes to help consumers approach finance and investment opportunities with more clarity.

Today, we have the opportunity to brainstorm with talent across the globe – could telling your story through a visual language be the key to connecting your community to another, allowing you to learn from and progress with one another?

How have you seen visual storytelling used in creative, impactful ways?

By Diana Enriquez

Diana studies informal economies, social enterprises, and economic systems at Locus Analytics. She spends a lot of time exploring new neighborhoods, especially in Latin America.

Originally posted on the Feast on Good Blog

Talking about Healthcare and Health Education

Everyone remembers their first sexual health and wellness conversation. Imagine how much better it could have been if this conversation took place on a peer to peer level?

There are a number of great organizations like Yale’s Community Health Educators or the Peer Health Exchange that try to create safer spaces for teens and young adults to learn about health issues like nutrition, sexually transmitted illnesses and mental health, without leaving anyone out of the conversation.

Every state in the United States has a different way of handling or recommending health education programs in public schools. Some states, like California, have specific guidelines for the topics that must be covered and when they are to be taught in schools, for example, HIV/AIDS prevention instructions between 7-12th grade and parenting education in 7th or 8th grade.[1] Others are much less strict about the material and expected outcomes.

In 1999, communities in New Haven wanted to improve access health education resources. A teacher from Wilbur Cross High School and a group of Yale students came together to develop the Community Health Educators (CHE) and develop a comprehensive curriculum for high school students.[2] Since then, CHE has grown to a group of 150 volunteers, working in twenty-four middle schools and high schools in New Haven.[3] Michael Solotke, a former Coordinator for the program, says that the curriculum changes yearly and “is designed to empower students with skills and knowledge to help them make healthy decisions throughout their lives.”

The Peer Health Exchange (PHE) is a program that grew out of the original CHE and decided to address gaps in health education on a national level. Colleges in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and many other cities across the United States partner with PHE to provide similar comprehensive health education in schools across the country.[4]

“We really value being able to teach on a peer-to-peer level,” says Katherine Rich, one of this year’s coordinators for Communtiy Health Educators. Rich believes it plays an important role in teaching and communicating with teens about challenging topics like sexual and mental health.

New York City is one of PHE’s largest markets. This program is already partnered with New York University, Barnard College, Hunter College and a number of other institutions in the city, but they are always looking for dedicated volunteers.[5]

While both Solotke and Rich commented that there have been some exciting improvements in Health education resources over time, there is a still a lot to be done.

But new issues in health care and health education arise all the time.

How many of us have struggled to understand the fine print of health insurance contracts, doctor’s disclosure statements, and other more technical aspects of our healthcare system? How much are we really expected to know and be able to navigate on our own?

Some communities are also having trouble navigating the more technical parts of the healthcare system. While tools like ZocDoc are helping us find and review doctors, insurance coverage difficult to understand or use without a little guidance. Some organizations like Resources for Human Development in Philadelphia offer a “Health Insurance Navigator” program to help those who are newly insured navigate the health care system.[6]

It really seems like we need a degree of health education at every stage of our lives… does anyone know about any particular clinics that offer regular “health and healthcare education” classes for adults?

[Disclosure: this is a version of a post that might go up on another blog. Once the post goes up, I will credit it and link to the new version here]

[1] http://www.nasbe.org/healthy_schools/hs/bytopics.php?topicid=1100

[2] http://www.communityhealtheducators.org/about-us.html

[3] http://www.communityhealtheducators.org/about-us.html

[4] http://www.peerhealthexchange.org/about-us/

[5] http://www.peerhealthexchange.org/our-sites/new-york/

[6] http://www.rhd.org/Programs/FamilyHealthandCounseling.aspx

Building Your Organization: Communication and Honesty

I’ve been thinking about the “tool set” it takes to build organizations recently.

Why? Because I think I take some of the ways that I conceptualize things and see workflow patterns for granted. I have trouble explaining them to other people because there is a gap in the language I use and the assumptions/connections I make without thinking. Organizing and executing things is a bit like breathing to me.

But it’s really hard to build teams if you aren’t willing to put in the real effort to meet language barriers and expectations. I think that is why this quote stood out to me while I was reading today:

(In regards to some of the challenges that crowdfunded companies/projects run into and dealing with the expectations of your customers/funders) “There can be a disconnect in your ability to deliver to those expectations,” Mittal says. “In those cases, the tendency is for rewards-based backers to act more like unhappy consumers, a stress that can break a young startup. It is important to set expectations upfront and to remain in dialogue with customers.” — Alex Mittal, FundersClub, since in an interview in an article posted on First Round Capital’s Blog

It’s interesting to me that being honest about limits and goals is not something more valued in seminars/classes that I took at Yale and now in New York City. It’s hard to build a solid foundation for anything without a certain baseline of honesty and accountability. If you don’t know something, there really shouldn’t be shame in admitting that and asking for time to do more research/return with a better answer.

And yet… there are enough case studies of people having trouble saying “I don’t know” as an answer that Freakonomics was able to write a podcast on the subject.

The number of times I’ve been in a meeting where someone is grasping for straws to give answers that begin slightly off and then get increasingly worse…

We can’t control for behavior everywhere… but why not start with solid decisions inside of our organizations? Be honest with your coworkers. Set that baseline where they can go through your notes, follow your thought process and trust your baseline assumptions and approaches.

Start a revolution in business: be honest when you need more help at work. Your peers will thank you when they can explore with you instead of cleaning up the mess later.

 

Why I Organize a Speaker Series at Work

I am one of those people who is constantly over-scheduled. Mostly, I want to be everywhere and learn about as much as I can from different people. It means I end up taking phone calls to talk about project designs while I’m walking from work to a lecture at General Assembly, send emails with comments on a draft of a talk or blog post in the 2 minutes before I walk into a restaurant to meet a friend for dinner, and sometimes have 3-4 “breakfasts” in a row on Saturdays with interesting people who like to talk about ideas.

I like working on a single project at a time. It’s really wonderful to have freedom to focus so carefully on the details and execution of something. But I learn most when I have to juggle, balance and talk to people. I know that about myself. That is why I never work on just one thing in a day. It helps me look at each piece through different lenses, and sometimes coming back to my first project after working on a second means I can troubleshoot solutions in a new way. I find I am frequently more inspired this way.

After I ended my summer at TED content, I missed building content and thinking about speakers/narratives. I started a new job doing research that I really cared about, but the details about presentations and narratives were missing. I went out of my way to find and attend lectures. Really, it was to keep learning about different schools of thought and interesting projects in fields besides my own.

I learned about Ant Colonies, start up pricing methodologies, and the basics of programming in Python outside of work… and realized that my teams here could benefit from more exposure to some of these topics.

I really admire companies that take the extra step to build their own lecture series in their offices. Groups like Undercurrent host work “retreats” that encourage their team members to stay up to date on different topics and work through interesting problem solving methodologies. TED hosts speakers once a month as part of the TED@250 speaker series and encourages their team members and their friends to attend.

The speaker series I organize at work started as an event series for the interns and full time staff to have breaks in their week and learn more about what else is going on in New York City… but it turned into a lot more when we started “locally sourcing” talks and learning about the pet projects and interests in our office besides our regular work flow. I think we all left with a new appreciation for all the things that our co-workers do outside of the office.

Now we are able to run a series of interesting thought leaders in different industries… and paint a richer picture of our company as a whole. It doesn’t get better than that!