Thank you for your interest in the 4th Annual Flintstone Challenge 5K Race/Walk. Over the past 3 years, your support has allowed MSU medical students raised more than $37,000 for the Flint Classroom Support Fund, a Great Idea Grant program that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration among teachers to initiate innovative learning programs that have impacted thousands of Flint students.
This month, we want to share with you one of the many ways that the Flint Classroom Support Fund is empowering Flint youth. High school counselor, Cassandra Harris of Northwestern High School was recently awarded one of the largest Flint Classroom Support Fund Great Idea Grants of 2015 to fund their inaugural Health and Wellness Fair. On April 27, 2016, vendors will fill the Northwestern cafeteria, hallways, and gymnasium to “[encourage] parents to choose even a small lifestyle change that would make a healthier life for themselves and their families,” says Harris. She and four other counselors of Northwestern comprise the fair’s organizing committee. In an interview with the dedicated organizing committee, we had the opportunity to learn more about this inspiring effort to empower their students and their community.
“I wanted to do something that would impact all of the students, be beneficial to parents, and get them to interact with us in a more relaxed environment.” And it doesn’t stop there. Acutely aware of the negative attention and negative publicity that public schools often receive, Harris is reaching out to her entire community. “We’re talking about canvassing the community, [inviting] the broader community, and showing our community that this is a community school.” When asked for the one thing that she hopes her students, families, and the community would gain from the Health and Wellness Fair, Harris responded, “that we not only care about our academic health, but we care about your well-being, we care about families, and we want to bring families together.” On a similar note, college advisor, Andrade added that she hopes to inform the community “of the abundance of resources that are available to students and families, such as the Wellness Center.” Northwestern’s school-based Health Center, more widely known as CATS312, provides health services to any teen in Genesee County. However, the counselors report that the Center is relatively unknown and underutilized. In addition to CATS312, the fair will also host the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and SodexoMAGIC, Northwestern’s food provider, and many other vendors. Through give-aways and activities, such as Zumba, Harris hopes that, “people will be more active, utilize CATS312, and get the word out.”
Echoing her colleagues, fellow counselor Phyllis Jones added, “It is important for people to know that they can come into the school for information, resources, [and] support. That the school is a hub of the community just like churches are, especially in the north end.” The lack of basic resources on the north end side of Flint, such as a grocery store, have left the community disgruntled, angry, and in doubt regarding the value of their own community. Jones hopes that the Health and Wellness Fair will help people to realize, “There’s a place for me with people who will be able to assist me with my needs, whatever they may be.” Moving forward, having secured physical health and nutrition vendors, the committee hopes to better address mental health.
In keeping with the spirit of empowering their students, the Northwestern counselors have allowed their students to take ownership of the event by allowing them to contact certain vendors and by encouraging other schools to partner with them. Schools as far away as Waterford and Walled Lake have reached out. Harris went on to explain, “We have a 99% black population and these are predominantly Caucasian schools that have reached out. And I think it would be wonderful for the kids to have an opportunity to work together.”
As our conversation continued, the counselors also shared their valuable insight into some of the biggest barriers that their students currently face. Harris described transportation as a significant issue. “Most of our students are bus riders. So that limits them from taking advantage of health opportunities.” As Northwestern’s college advisor, Andrade added, “I am here as a resource [but] a lot of the time, they’re unable to attend after school or weekend [scholarship and FAFSA application] workshops.” In the context of healthcare, Jones pointed out, “parents take their children to urgent care or to the emergency department before they will take them to their primary care physician because the hospital is on the bus line.” The counselors also shed light on the high cost of healthy eating choices. Harris explained, “a lot of the time the stores that our children walk to or stores that they frequent don’t have healthy options.” The severe access to resources, compounded by the lead crisis, has resulted in what Jones describes as a “poverty mentality.” She agrees that it is vitally important to address the mental health of the community and “[increase] access to resources and access to being able to believe that you can do better in the situation that you’re currently in.”
Moving forward, Harris and her team hope to garner more resources from the Flint Public School Fund in order to expand the Health and Wellness Fair and continue to connect the students, staff, parents and community members. “We’re hoping [to] make our Health and Wellness Fair an annual, bigger, and better event…something that parents will look forward to.”
Read our entire conversation at:
- Flintstone Challenge Team, 2016
PS: We will also host the 3rd Annual Littlestone’s Challenge in the MSU College of Human Medicine building downtown (old Flint Journal Building) for another day of healthy, educational fun for young participants! The Littlestones Challenge will be scheduled soon so please stay tuned for more information!