Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An Opportunity for Growth

The Two-Year Master Degree at Drexel University's School of Public Health offers classes in: Epidemiology, Behavioral Assessment, Biostatistics, Community Assessment, Policy and Advocacy, Program Planning and Evaluation, Environmental and Occupational Health, Health Management, and an independent study. I truly believe that many of these classes will give me the proper perspective to create an incredibly effective model for teaching advocacy. More, considering that I'll be simultaneously managing and implementing an advocacy pilot, this coupling of practice and reflection will foster a dynamic creative process for me and HPC.

Young people growing up in vulnerable environments of food insecurity and nutritional deficiencies need the opportunity to ask critical questions of themselves and their communities, and act based on the dialogue generated. Certainly this opportunity for those young people will be a growing experience for them, but I will be growing into a position of authority on advocacy. Recognizing patterns of development amongst the students, I'll begin to connect those students to relevant materials and ideas to their particular stage in development.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

An Essay for the Masters

In a world of plenty, theoretically everyone would have sufficient resources (food, healthcare, jobs, etc.). Tragically this is not the case for millions of people who struggle to make ends meet. For those who can, their wellness is probable. For those who cannot, their disease is probable. The most pressing public health issue is this disparity and the need to build or strengthen a culture of health literacy and action to guarantee everyone can at least possess skills and the will to pursue the health of their family and their community. In a world as dynamic as ours is becoming, whereas it was always said ‘it takes a community to raise a child’, it now takes a highly motivated, indeed vigilant, community to raise a healthy child. As my experience in the school system shows, the ease with which young people access unhealthy foods and their comfort eating those same foods means either they cannot access healthy foods or they don’t want to. Now, we must come to see that the young person is not to blame for his/her ignorance. We, the leaders in this field, must develop appropriate strategies to teach young people how to commit themselves to living a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their community. Thus, we must bolster both the individual and the community, both externally through the demanding of additional resources, and internally community members must embrace health and banish disease. It will be this kind of promotion of health from within and the demand of stability to the outside that will bring a form of happiness that lasts beyond the sugar fix at the bottom of a chocolate milk carton.
There is nothing quite so enjoyable as feeling healthy. There is nothing quite so stabilizing as wellness coming to a family. It’s these happy and healthy faces that not only create lasting results, but also propel me to persevere. Now, it’s easy to confuse the happy faces of a healthy family sitting down to enjoy a healthy home-cooked meal with the relieved faces of a family out to eat at one of the innumerable fast food chains. But it’s impossible to confuse the pain of a family coping with chronic disease or even an early death, with a family developing together within a community network built to guarantee health. It’s this guarantee that appeals to me. A guarantee of health literacy through education, a guarantee of healthier living, and a guarantee of money saved (families save money and public institutions save money). I have seen the guarantee in person. I have seen the guarantee of information retained and motivation gained because happy faces met healthy skillbuilding. Inevitably these happy, thinking, minds develop positive connections between experiential learning and the subject matter to the point where they will never forget the lesson and are hungry for more. These opportunities to teach young people self-reliance in a team setting amounts to the strongest lessons of public health in action. The individual exists within a social framework (like a team) but the team is dynamically altered by every individual within it. Giving young people a space to safely explore those connections will produce cohorts upon cohorts of health leaders. My graduate work in public health will give me the tools to teach this effectively.
To be honest, it's impossible to quantify the elements involved in teaching a lesson that truly engages an audience. Really, you just know it when your in it. I can say that I've been there a handful of times. I know this kind of lesson when I sweep my eyes across a classroom of students leaning forward in anticipation of the next variable to be introduced. Much like a lesson I recently taught about persuasion to a group of 12 year olds, at one point the five students performing at the front of the room were following precise directions with smiles on their faces simultaneously looking up and down in deep thought. The rest of the students looking on had body language indicating engagement: chest squared with their desk, back straight, eyes wide, mouth open wanting to speak to the learning. In these moments I know teaching is in my blood. Every one of those students was ready to learn more and apply the knowledge in the streets. Each was ready to lead. And truth be told, I so badly wanted to follow up the lesson with another skill intrinsic to leadership and advocacy. If I can learn to link multiple engaging lessons together with the right information and skill building, there is literally no telling what the students will amount to: certainly leaders, but perhaps more.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Advocacy Activities

Two Advocacy Activities for the intense need to push forward with engaging, interactive work to simulate real world circumstances and bring critical dialogue capable of inspiring and educating to the forefront.

Promoting the Positive (a direct action review): Rather than direct action exclusively based on obstruction, our Direct Action will encourage participation with the positive alternative. To do this the class will:
1.  Review a few historical or modern direct actions and how they highlighted the issue.
2. Brainstorm positive health sites in community (corner stores, grocery stores, playgrounds, community center, etc.)
3. Write each site on different piece of posterboard paper and hang each one in a different area of the room.
***Provide direct action props, like: posters, bull horn, drums, banners, etc.
4. Designate particular groups of students for each site and ask them to develop a direct action to promote the positive aspects of the site.
5. After 10 minutes ask students to present their direct action shemes.
6. Explain to students we will have two direct action lightning rounds.
7. Give groups two more rounds of direct action creation at the following site, but allow them only 2 minutes to develop the campaign. 
8. Following lightning presentations, hold conversation about purpose of direct actions and the value of demonstrating against the negative and promoting the positive.

Acting Advocates: We will study and implement different techniques for persuasion through quick role play. The teacher will call out different audiences (made up of homogenous professionals) and the students' goal is to quickly persuade depending on the lean of the audiences.
1. Teacher call out the following audiences to persuade in at most 20-30 seconds:
      A. Politicians
      B. Doctors
      C. Business People
      E. Parents

2. Students will be randomly chosen to persuade the audience.
3. After each round the chosen techniques of persuasion will be analyzed and talked about as a whole.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Something like Landmarks

For the establishment of a advocacy curriculum I need to create certain objectives for young people to achieve (like a roadmap, they'll need landmarks). Coupling technical knowledge, with relevant literature, and character building will amount to a serious journey to maturity. Like a rite of passage, this course will mark the beginning of rational thought, critical action, and pride in character for all these young people. To this end, I will be consulting the Martin Luther King liberation curriculum for best practices and working with as many advocacy thinkers to ascertain the proper path to a skill set and a competent advocate.

As the metaphor goes, I need to be able to draw an intricate map of the path to advocacy with landmarks (milestones) on the way. Thus, the journey will be easily communicated and measurable.