While adolescence is often viewed as a challenging or troubling time for some, especially here in the U.S., it can be a positive life-changing and inspirational time as well.
Brenda Sanchez, SEAHECs Program Manager for Border Binational Initiatives, is one of those young people who was offered a life-changing experience in high school as she was encouraged to enroll in the Joint Technical Education Program known as JTED and she took courses on health careers, learning to become a CNA while still in high school and later getting a degree in public health. That degree landed her a job at SEAHEC and now, through our SEAHEC/JTED collaboration, Brenda is “paying it forward” and teens from around southern Arizona are offered a variety of service learning experiences. SEAHEC and JTED Health Care Professions program is offering 180 students the opportunity to immerse themselves for a year in an area of interest that addresses health disparities in our local community. Choosing between: health care and homelessness; addressing disabilities through adaptive sports, migrant health care, COVID-19 education and outreach at health fairs; community gardens and nutrition, among other topics, students learn about health issues and then get to volunteer with an agency that is addressing that issue head-on.
The overall goal for students enrolled in JTED’s Health Care Program is “to learn about all of the different careers/professional opportunities available to students interested in the health field”. The service learning component added an element of direct service and learning through service. In the first semester of JTED, the students had panels of experts on: Indigenous health; farmworker health; health care for people experiencing homelessness; people with disabilities; elder health and migrant and border health.
Then the students learned about social determinants of health – define- and health disparities. Students then participate in reflection of what they learned and how it applied to them, their lives and their academic studies. For example, when they interacted with their families, they brought up these difficult topics and enriched discussion. Each class (of about 25 students each) got to choose from among 8 topics for their service learning projects – Examples of service projects include: a migrant shelter donation drive; a donation drive for women’s feminine products; vaping prevention/peer mentors; health fairs for outreach on COVID education and resources; adaptive sports and disabilities; the Tucson Housing Department project had various donation drives and educational outreach to the general public about resources for the homeless and homelessness in our community; students volunteered at Southside Garden Kitchen and the Mexican Consulate health fairs, helping set up booths while learning about all of the different resource and organizations available.
Brenda Sanchez, former JTED student and Program Manager for SEAHEC shared: “I just had a group of high schoolers -14 and 15 year olds- in their early JTED classes, it has been so exciting seeing students being exposed to preventive health care and all of the aspects of heath care. That it is more than just traditional “medical” care – health goes lot farther than that.
About the multiplier effect, “I feel that our ability t share – seeing the students get excited when people talk about things that they are excited about – to engage with community members and their peers, especially since the students come from very diverse backgrounds, it is so enriching For example, there are students that had never been to south Tucson, and hearing from them how they shared that experience with their family members, students realize how diverse our city is. Students at the Bridges campus for example are so much more aware of the disparities within our community; than the students that live in other parts of town and are on other campuses. Both extremes, the diversity of the students coming together and sharing experiences. Some parents and families were donors and other students families have had to rely on their health care from health fairs.
Students learned about a variety of health professions geared towards people with different abilities: PTs; OTs and adaptive technologies; learned about community organizations available to those persons with diverse abilities. Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports, Pima Medical Institute, Encompass Health;
Learned about disparities in resources and access to these adaptive technologies. Student projects included learning about organizations and professions and then also cleaning and donating wheelchairs and prepare the different types of adaptive bicycles for the Tucsn Cyclovia event, like oiling bike chains, loading bikes etc. and then helped out at Cyclovia event, setting up booth for SAAS and educating community members on adaptive bikes and how they are used. They would accompany community members to ride adaptive bikes, which offered a unique perspective in to the world of abilities.
At the end of the semester, the high schoolers will present a poster at their local JTED campus summarizing their projects and what they have learned.
Meanwhile, Brenda continues to inspire others, “As a former JTED student creating this program is exciting, it adds another level of excitement – when students come up and ask me how JTED helped me, I am able to reflect upon it and realize that a lot of what I learned then, was really public health. The things I enjoyed learning about were the essence of public health – I just didn’t know that is what it was called. Now, being a public health professional, I enjoy igniting a spark in the students who do want to go in to public health – and this program has really come full circle.”
So, if you want to get involved in making your community a better place, or know someone who does, you can apply to the JTED program through your local high school (public, charter or home school) in Pima County. There is an application on the JTED page.