The YEZ at Banana Kelly:10th Grade Service Learning AddressesCommunity Health Issues

By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager

buildOn’s Youth Engagement Zone is back in session for the new academic year! We’re very excited to continue integrating service learning into Banana Kelly’s classrooms, and upcoming projects will build upon the experiences students had in the winter and spring. Last year’s 9th grade science classes took field trips to Kensico Dam and the Bronx River to study the locations and, eventually, in the case of the latter, go canoeing!

This fall, we’re scaffolding upon those efforts with the same group of youth, who are now 10th graders; science classes will focus on health issues affecting Bronx neighborhoods, and what can be done about them. To achieve this, I’ll be teaching service learning lab classes once a month along with science teacher Emily Chakwin, who’s also been on a school building trip with buildOn and serves as one of our YEZ advisers.

[pullquote]We hope that these science classes will produce a group of peer educators and community activists.[/pullquote]

Our goal is to provide the students with an opportunity to complete their own neighborhood investigation, data gathering, and research. In our first session, we had the classes brainstorm the difference between healthy communities and unhealthy ones–among the problems identified were dietary issues, asthma, and drug addiction. We furthermore expanded the definition of “healthy community” to denote an environment that is free from violence. By treating health as a holistic concept and ensuring that the students have ownership over their own outreach projects, we hope that these science classes will produce a group of peer educators and community activists that can inform and assist those around them.

“What we want to instill in the kids is the sense that they can do something in their communities to make them a little more healthy,” my collaborator Emily Chakwin adds. “I find as a science teacher that it’s difficult to make academic information stick because we have so many misconceptions about the way the body and the scientific world works. But if the students can have some real-world context in which to apply what they’re learning in the classroom I think it will help, especially if they’re passing on what they learn to other people.”

At the end of our first session, we developed a health survey with the students that they will administer in their communities this October to determine what health issues are most pressing. The students are nervous about engaging with strangers about what could be private topics, but we’re hoping that the experience will promote openness and frank discussion that curbs the spread of misinformation.

We’re also looking forward to building on what the students discover on their own in the form of guest lectures and field trips to various clinics and health-related organizations in the Bronx. Eventually we might even set up a student health advisory board to provide a space for peer counseling. We see this as a chance to engage youth in service learning activities that have an immediate impact, and we’ll be blogging about the outcomes through the year. Look for our update next month!