Findings of the 2017 Healthy Kids Survey in Trinity County showed about three-quarters of teens lack healthy social connectivity, and most feel disconnected at school.
"We were surprised," said Janessa Hartmann, UC CalFresh nutrition education program supervisor for Trinity, Shasta and Tehama counties. "Trinity County is small and Trinity High School has just 364 students. We thought there were ample opportunities for students to connect."
The students told a different story. The survey found that 74 percent of 9th graders and 60 percent of 11th graders feel they have no caring relationships at school; 90 percent of 9th graders and 77 percent of 11th graders feel they have no meaningful participation at school.
The data prompted Junction City Elementary School principal Christine Camara to reach out to UC Cooperative Extension for assistance in creating a program where high school students could develop caring relationships through a project devoted to meaningful participation in their school and community.
UC CalFresh offers nutrition, physical activity and garden education in local schools. To involve teenagers, UC CalFresh created RISE, the Raw Inspiration Spreading Education program. It was designed to mentor, empower, and train teens to deliver the Learn Grow Eat Go Curriculum at the Junction City Elementary School afterschool program and support the school garden. RISE is giving older students the opportunity to work with elementary school students in a structured way that helps spark friendships, reduce social isolation and improve health outcomes.
This project, led by Maggie Alvord, UC CalFresh Trinity County nutrition educator, is also integrating the talents of 4-H program representative Nate Caeton and UC CalFresh garden coordinator Kim Stempien.
Trinity High School counselor Jaime Green noted that the pilot project aligns with the education component of the Career Pathway program by providing the opportunity for students to learn to teach. The Trinity High School horticulture teacher is offering classroom time and opportunities for students to learn the curriculum.
"By participating in this program, students are developing skills as educators," Alvord said. "They are becoming role models for the elementary age students."
Last school year, four high school students were enrolled in RISE. They delivered 10 Learn Grow Eat Go lessons to 60 after-school students.
"The RISE Program is fun. It's taught me how to guide and learn with children as well as further my knowledge in gardening and healthy lifestyles," said junior Macy Senter, one of the RISE participants.
"The momentum has only begun and I have a lot of ideas brewing regarding improvements in the RISE Program for the following year and hopefully years to come," Alvord said.
Nutrition education has stretched into a garden at a Fresno facility where women are putting their lives back together.
The UC Cooperative Extension UC CalFresh nutrition education program in Fresno offers its five-week series “Plan, Shop, Save and Cook" at Rescue the Children, a residential program where women who were abused, homeless, previously incarcerated or faced other challenging life circumstances stay for 18 months to learn life and job skills, plus nurture their spirituality.
Rescue the Children is a program offered by the Fresno Rescue Mission. Women with young children or without are referred by such agencies as child protective services, the county probation office and courts. The women make a personal commitment to stay for a year and a half.
“We're not a shelter where they come and go,” said Priscilla Robbins, Rescue the Children director. “We're a ministry.”
Rescue the Children is a safe place for women to get away from destructive lifestyles, where they can heal, learn, grow and become productive members of society.
UC CalFresh reaches out to a variety of community programs and schools with nutrition, garden and physical activity education to teach recipients of CalFresh (formerly called food stamps) and those who are eligible for CalFresh how to make safe, healthful and budget-friendly dietary and cooking decisions. CalFresh benefits – which are part of USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – can be used to buy food, edible garden transplants and vegetable seeds.
During a nutrition education session last year, one Rescue the Children resident asked whether an unplanted garden area in the facility could be restored to grow vegetables, said Nancy Zumkeller, UC CalFresh nutrition educator. As a UC Cooperative Extension program, it was easy to connect with the UC Master Gardeners and collaborate to provide garden and nutrition education.
Several Master Gardener volunteers and the UC CalFresh garden team provided classroom gardening training and worked with the women to clear weeds, update irrigation, and sow seeds and transplants in four raised-bed plots.
The Master Gardeners donated gardening books to the Rescue the Children library, including the Master Gardener Handbook, a definitive guide to environmentally sound gardening practices with chapters on soil, fertilizer and water management, home vegetable gardening, and detailed information on number of specific garden crops.
As part of their structured schedule of classes, work, meals and Bible study, the women spend one hour each Wednesday working in the garden, a time that residents have come to relish.
“Aunty Shirley had a garden in Madera,” said Debriana*. “I would go and help her. It's a soothing process.”
Adriana said she values her new gardening knowledge.
“This is a great experience for learning the skills for outside life,” she said. “It will be a complete transformation from where we came from.”
Resident Darcy has lived at the facility for nine months, and been involved with the garden for six months' time.
“It's nice to watch things grow. It feels successful,” she said. “You plant all this stuff and there's nothing there. You come out a couple weeks later and, oh my gosh, my box is growing all this stuff. It's very cool to be able to learn these tools. When we go out on our own and have our own place, we can grow our own fruits and vegetables.”
An important aspect of positive youth development is engaging youth in meaningful activities, building youth capacity, and helping youth develop leadership skills. As older students on their elementary school campuses, fifth- and sixth-grade student leaders can have a significant role in inspiring peers to make positive and healthy lifestyle choices. Student leaders can also have great impacts on their own families and communities by sharing what they know about nutrition and health in culturally relevant and accessible ways that inspire those around them.
The 11-week photovoice project started with students and project leaders getting to know one another and building trust with icebreakers, energizers and games. The students came together weekly to discuss barriers and opportunities for healthy play, physical activity and healthy food in their schools. Next, students learned to define important terms like “advocacy” and “photovoice.” Through these meetings and discussions students continued to explore what it means to “have a voice” or “a platform to advocate for change” from within their youth perspective.
Over the course of several weeks, students took walking field trips around their school campuses and photographed images of their school environment that they found significant. Although each student took a number of photographs, they each selected one image that was the most significant to them. Each student shared with the rest of their club why that image was significant and how they felt when they looked at it. Students then wrote a short description about their photograph, why they selected that image, what the image meant, and how that meaning was important to them as a student leader and to their school community. The project culminated with the youth sharing their collective voice with other students, school administrators, teachers and parents.
After the months' long project, it was rewarding and humbling to see the student leaders sharing their unique youth perspective. The youths' communities found value in their photographs as well. Images were framed and displayed alongside their interpretative narratives at local school sites, the school district office, the county fair, and other community sites as testaments to youth vision for healthy and thriving school communities. The school district displayed several of these photovoice stories in the halls of the central district building. Three students entered their photos at the Santa Barbara County Fair. This is notable because none of these students had previous experience entering their work at a county fair and they were able to gain wider exposure and recognition for their work. One student won first place and another received an honorable mention in the county-wide youth photography competition.
The UCCE Youth, Families and Communities Program in Santa Barbara County focuses on deepening engagement in nutrition education with youth and families in low-income settings while increasing positive youth development outcomes.This photovoice project was funded through local grant awards from the National 4-H Council in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, which is a joint agreement among the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Food and Nutrition Service (USDA/FNS), the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) CalFresh branch, and the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).
Late in August, the Helena Fire closed six schools in Trinity County and forced 2,000 people out of their homes. Ultimately, 70 houses were destroyed and Gov. Brown issued a state of emergency in the mountain community.
In the midst of the tragedy, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education specialist Margarita Alvord and program supervisor Janessa Hartmann quickly developed a plan to serve the children they couldn't reach during the school closures and organized activities to support local families. Alvord brought together several organizations, including Human Response Network, First 5 Trinity County, and Weaverville Parks and Recreation District to address the needs of the fire-stricken community.
The agencies developed a plan to provide youth activities, including physical activity, nutrition education, arts and crafts, and games. They served healthy lunches and provided three days of programming at the Local Assistance Center in Weaverville.
"We received significant positive feedback from parents, teachers and community members, showing Trinity County's strength, resilience and solidarity," Hartmann said. "The staff at UCCE Trinity County seized the opportunity to ensure the students, families, and community displaced during the fires were offered opportunities to learn and have fun in a safe place."