Girls Inc. Partnership Thrives
By Karen Angleo
Community health students gain real-world experience as they teach kids about health at an after-school program at Girls Inc. in Lowell, a youth service organization.
The senior students, Jayson-Ann Wright and Alexandra Beauvais, are working as a team every Friday afternoon for eight weeks to teach girls about physical activity, healthy snack choices and managing stress – elements of the “Healthy You Program.”
“I think that teaching the kids about health is both challenging and fun at the same time,” says Wright. “As a college health student, it is a challenge to put health terms in words that the girls can understand. My partner Alexandra and I work hard to create an environment that makes the girls feel comfortable and safe to share life stories.”
The more than 10-year partnership between community health faculty and Girls Inc. has helped students gain practical experience while fulfilling a real community need. The organization provides enrichment programs after school for girls ages 5 through 18.
“Working with the Community Health Department at UMass Lowell on our Healthy You Program has been a wonderful experience for both our staff and girls and has been a fantastic addition to our programming,” says Jennifer Demers, program director at Girls Inc.
Each year, the students bring new programming related to healthy lifestyles, nutrition, exercise and stress management to Girls Inc., but an added benefit is the bond they develop with the organization and the girls.
“The students are positive role models and mentors for the girls in our program,” says Demers. “Jayson and Alex are two students who really understand the mission and purpose of the program and have really been resourceful and flexible with creating their program. I think they will both go on after graduation to become very caring and successful health professionals in our community.”
Ready for Work
The community project is a requirement in the Service Learning Seminar that community and environmental health students take in the fall semester of their senior year. The 40-hour project over 10 weeks helps them gain real-work experience as a community health educator, a job that is expected to grow by 18 percent by 2018 due to rising health care costs.
“This project will help me get a job as a health educator because it shows that I am responsible and that I can create and execute a successful program over a short period of time,” said Wright. “It also helps me with patience and determination, two characteristics that are necessary when working with children.”
Listen to Alexandra Beauvais discuss her service learning project at Girls Inc. during the 2012 Student Research & Community Engagement Symposium.
Making Classroom Learning Real
During the semester, students meet for a seminar with faculty to discuss their progress, any problems they may be encountering and what they are learning. The students reflect on their service learning experience and how it relates to the theories that they are studying in class.
“Service learning projects help make classroom learning real,” says Professor Craig Slatin of the Community Health and Sustainability Department. “Students come to the seminars and share their excitement about how they are helping people and achieving their project goals. The joy and excitement they experience and seeing first hand the power of community leaders, make the students eager to complete their studies and begin their careers.”