New education models cater to STEAM fields

Schools across the country are constantly integrating new technology into their curriculum--for example, Smart Boards in every class, tablets for every student, or computer science courses. The New York Times recently published an article on the Brooklyn STEAM Center (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), a New York City public school that is trying out a novel education structure where students learn real-world tech skills necessary for STEAM fields. The Center is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a hub for over 400 tech and manufacturing companies.

High schools select students to attend the STEAM Center, and the large majority are students of color from underprivileged backgrounds. The Center looks like a start-up—there are conference rooms, recording studios, ample white boards, and even a teaching kitchen. As one of only two schools in New York City located in a workplace setting, students learn by taking hands-on approach in a curriculum designed largely by industry experts.

This modern model is a new form of vocational schooling that allows students who otherwise may not have had opportunities to learn in the ever-growing STEAM field. The center emphasizes literacy in the modern tech world, complemented by soft skills like timeliness, responding to emails, teamwork, and networking.

The Brooklyn STEAM Center is one of the first of its kind; however, there is a growing movement supporting better STEAM preparation for teens.  For instance, Amazon started their own “Future Engineer Program,” which gives grants to qualifying high schools to implement better computer science education. They are specifically targeting schools “in lower-income communities and in states that have made computer science education a clear priority.”

For now, the students’ opinions reflected in the NYT piece are all positive--similar to the those who designed the curriculum, the students see their STEAM Center education as preparing them for survival in real-world industry. Nonetheless, this movement has not come without some reservations. While these programs seem promising for improving economic mobility for disadvantaged students, critics worry they set kids on a career track too early, at worst driving students away from a college education. It is imperative STEAM vocational education continues to prioritize students’ needs first, rather than those of employers. Regularly collecting feedback from students can help with this, as well as examining the medium-to-long term trajectories of alumni as programs age.

CHIL’s Guide to Community Health Clinics

In CHIL’s blog post last week, we mentioned Mary’s Center, a community health clinic in Washington D.C. This week, we want to emphasize that clinics like this one are available all over the nation. In fact, there are about 1,400 community health clinics (CHCs) in the U.S. While undocumented immigrants and Dreamers are ineligible to enroll in the federally-subsidized health insurance plans provided via the Affordable Care Act, CHCs often offer a good alternative for anyone seeking affordable health care—both citizens and non-citizens alike.

Additionally, these clinics do not operate under any low-income or insurance coverage eligibility requirements; that is, a family with a working parent covered by some form of health insurance is welcome at places like Mary’s Center, too. Medical costs in the United States’ largely privatized system indeed can be overwhelmingly burdensome, even for people with steady employment.

So, how do CHCs operate? What services do they provide for individuals and families, and at what cost?

CHCs are nonprofits that receive funding from a myriad of sources including federal, state, or local grants and/or Medicaid payments. Some may partially rely on private funding sources as well. Because several institutions finance each CHC, in most cases, this provides the centers with a safety net. If one funding source is compromised—something common in the U.S. as administrations shift—CHCs have other means to remain afloat.

In order to qualify for public funds, CHCs must:

  • Be located in a medically underserved area or serve medically underserved populations (determined by the federal government)

  • Provide comprehensive primary care

  • Adjust fees according to a sliding scale based on patient income

  • Be governed by a community board, of which at least 51% of members are patients of the CHC themselves

Apart from providing comprehensive primary care, CHCs may address local needs like care in foreign languages or medical translators (for which their local community board can advocate). Another example is Mary’s Center partnership with Briya Public Charter School. Briya holds classes at Mary’s Center, providing an educational space for both parents and their children. Briya’s model works well for teenage parents who otherwise may have had to forgo public education. They also offer a counseling and educational group for (future) parents to attend throughout pregnancy; a program called "centering." These two programs are particularly useful for the areas Mary’s Center serves, where there are many young families.

The localized care many CHCs provides sets them apart from other medical facilities and makes them integral to the health of thousands of children living in the U.S. today, particularly living in vulnerable and underprivileged families. If you or your kids are in need of affordable health care, CHIL recommends looking into your local CHCs for medical services. This search tool can help:

New School Lessons: Eating Healthy

We hear a lot about the obesity epidemic in the United States, especially among children and adolescents. However, the impact that school meals have on childhood weight and overall health has been overlooked. A piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year looks at five creative ways schools can encourage students to eat more healthily. These interventions have been formulated to help schools meet the guidelines under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.


Intervention One: Product Placement

Salad bars that feature at the front, or in the center, of a school lunch line are much more likely to attract students. Some Maryland elementary schools opened all-you-can-eat salad bars that featured five different fruits and five different vegetables a day and saw the number of students buying salad go up. In fact, one study found that strategic placement of vegetable options can increase consumption by as many as five times. Other schools planned the timing of vegetable snacks, so that hungry students were more likely to reach for them before a meal.


Intervention Two: New and Improved Advertising

Changing children’s preferences can be as simple as slicing up fruits for those with orthodontic appliances, or using more colorful bins to display fruits at lunch. “Stealth nutrition,” according to the WSJ piece, can also come in the form of food names that appeal to a young crowd (e.g. “X-Ray Carrots or Turbo Tomatoes.”) Attention-grabbing cartoon stickers on fruits can also increase consumption.


Intervention Three: Tracking Real Consumption

This is an intervention that can reduce waste, and at the same time, determines which foods are popular with students and which are not.  Researchers at some Chicago elementary schools recorded what foods were purchased and thrown out in order to determine the relative popularity of certain food groups.


Such measures can also increase parental involvement: some schools send home weekly report cards that record what a child ate throughout the week, based on lunch swipe summaries. Instead of remaining in the dark about what their children eat at school, parents can talk with their children about their meals or even compensate for missing nutrients at home.


Intervention Four: Bring in the Experts

Children can’t be expected to enjoy food that adults would also avoid. Chefs can consult for school menus or cook directly in schools. Over time, partnerships with chefs and local food sources can have a big impact.


Intervention Five: Field Trip!

Nutrition education should not have to be boring. In fact, it absolutely should not be, since a child’s first impression of a food item is crucial. Some elementary schools have started taking students on field trips to local farms, teaching ways of sustainability along with familiarizing students with new fruits and vegetables. They encourage students to make note of how a fruit smells, or what color a vegetable might be.  In NYC, the Wellness in School Program encourages students to make healthy choices for themselves based on what they observe in the fresh produce and nutrition labels they encounter.


Water Quality in NYC Schools

A recent article in The New York Times reports that new lead testing in New York City schools reveals that many schools have lead levels that are higher than those recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.


After high lead levels were exposed in Flint, Michigan, New York City officials were prompted to check lead levels in schools. However, the first round of testing was considered illegitimate after it was revealed that officials had run water for hours before testing the water for lead, a process called flushing that can artificially lower the lead levels in water.


Eighty three percent of school buildings in New York have at least one outlet with a lead level above the threshold of 15 parts per billion. Two school buildings in Queens had some of the worst results: in one school with 1,500 students, 34 outlets had levels above 15 parts per billion.


The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) responded quickly, sending home letters detailing these results and pledging action. NYCDOE has turned off outlets in question and will not be turning them back on until their levels are found to be under the threshold.  The potential impact of this finding cannot be overstated. It reflects a deeply ingrained system of negligence in the largest school system in the United States (over 1.1 million students attend more than 1,800 schools in New York City).  Despite a gradual decrease of children lead poisoning cases in New York City over the past decade, a problem of this scope shows that the tragedy of Flint is not unique to one particular city.


Children are a vulnerable portion of the population when it comes to environmental hazards. They spend their childhood in old school buildings with other students and teachers and will suffer consequences if lawmakers or officials shirk their duty to protect them. Parents are also left similarly helpless if a school system, as large as New York City’s, does not work to maintain the health of its students.


Thankfully, this detection occurred before cases of lead poisoning led to tragedy. Perhaps New York is indebted to Flint in that respect. Hopefully, New York City can set a model of decisive, proactive prevention of lead poisoning for future cities and school districts.  In the meantime, it is important for parents to stay involved and informed of their children’s health at school, and for parents to work with schools in order to provide the best possible learning environment for young students.

Handwashing Day, Everyday

Every year, 1.7 million children worldwide die before the age of five from diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, which are preventable by washing hands with soap, according to the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW).

PPPHW started an awareness initiative called “Global Handwashing Day” - this year, it was on October 15th, 2016 - to shed light on an important, and often overlooked, health habit: hand-washing. Here at CHIL, we have even written about the importance of hand-washing, and what you can do to encourage children to develop this fundamental habit. PPPHW goes into detail to explain how the positive effects of hand-washing can spread beyond children’s health.


Hand-washing with soap kills bacteria and viruses that can cause severe illnesses from diarrhea, skin and eye infections, pneumonia and acute respiratory infections, and even Ebola. It also reduces the risk of hospital-acquired infections especially when caring for children and infants.


The surface of our hands contains millions of invisible germs that come from handling waste and food, and these germs can include E.coli and norovirus, the most common causes of diarrhea from food poisoning. Even if they don’t cause severe food poisoning, these viruses and bacteria can prohibit the proper absorption of nutrients from food. Hand-washing breaks the resulting cycle between disease and undernutrition. When children do not properly absorb nutrients from what they eat, they are more susceptible to falling sick - it’s a vicious cycle that can be broken by developing a hand-washing habit.


Effective hand-washing is a fundamental component of a child’s education and school environment. Schools rightly dedicate time teaching young students about the benefits of careful hygiene, and the results are undeniable: better school attendance and better performance in the classroom.


Hand-washing is one of the most cost-effective interventions a citizen can engage in to improve his/her health, and it is something that children can learn at a young age. Compared to interventions like improving household water supply, or investing in immunizations, hand-washing is cheaper and more effective at reducing the incidence of disease. This is especially true in developing countries but remains relevant in our communities. Hand-washing is therefore an empowering habit because it is an affordable way to maintain health.

The importance of hand-washing should not be forgotten simply because it is an elementary, simple habit to develop. Join us in setting precedence to make everyday “Hand-Washing Day.” Schools and households can improve the health of the youngest members of society by prioritizing this simple hygiene habit.