Winkleby Lab In the Prevention Research Center

Exciting Low-income Students about Science: A New Health Disparities Curriculum

The Stanford Medical Youth Science Program (SMYSP) proposes to design, implement, evaluate, and prepare for dissemination a new Health Disparities Curriculum for students and teachers in San Jose’s East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) to address the large and persistent disparities in higher education and health, and to meet the critical need for a diverse health professional workforce. For the last five years we have partnered with Overfelt High School in the ESUHSD and successfully delivered an academic year Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Curriculum that teaches students about heart disease risk factors and hypothesis-based science but does not teach about community influences on health or include an advocacy component. Our proposed work is in direct response to students’ and teachers’ request for a broader, inquiry-based curriculum that focuses on factors in school and community environments that influence health disparities. We have a strong partnership with Overfelt High School—we are now ready to broaden our reach to other interested teachers in the ESUHSD as well as the larger community. Low-income and predominately underrepresented minority students comprise our target population; these are students who have few science resources, little knowledge of health disparities, and few interactions with health professionals.

We will design, implement, evaluate, and prepare for dissemination the new Health Disparities Curriculum with 60 students (ages 14-16) in their sophomore year who are enrolled in two Advancement Via Individual Determination classes (AVID) at Overfelt High School. AVID is a college preparatory program typically for lower achieving students. Through academic instruction, college guidance, and motivational activities, students are prepared for and encouraged to pursue post-secondary education. We will build the foundation for disseminating the curriculum to other interested teachers/educators at the 11 high schools in ESUHSD as well as two high schools in Northern California and two California post-secondary institutions who are current SMYSP partners. By the end of the project, the curriculum and advocacy outreach materials (fact sheets, pamphlets, brochures) will be completed and ready for dissemination. At that point, we will offer the curriculum on electronic media and will post the curriculum on the SMYSP web site, and will also provide teacher training workshops at no cost to the ESUHSD and other interested teachers/educators.. We have learned from our partner teachers that they often receive curricula that do not relate to their students and/or are not easy to use; as a result they become unused documents on their shelves. Based on the success of our past evaluated work, we anticipate that our curriculum will be well-received in ESUHSD schools as it will be relevant to students’ lives, excite them about science, and provide step-by-step directions to teachers for hands-on science education.

We have three main goals. First, in year 1, we will adapt the current SMYSP Cardiovascular Disease Curriculum to a new Health Disparities Curriculum. Second, in year 2 we will implement the Health Disparities Curriculum in two classes at Overfelt High School. Third, by the end of the grant, we will prepare the Health Disparities Curriculum for dissemination to interested teachers/educators at the 11 high schools in the ESUHSD, two high schools in Northern California, and two California post-secondary institutions, and offer teacher training workshops. We will also post the curriculum on the SMYSP web site and make it available on electronic media.

The Health Disparities Curriculum will be based on scientific inquiry and will be highly participatory, with all activities relevant to the students’ school and local community over the course of the school year. Students will learn about health disparities and how to advocate for change. They will identify community resources/stakeholders (e.g., San Jose Parks and Recreation Department, American Heart Association, Santa Clara County Health Department,) that work to address health disparities. After mapping their community to identify factors that influence health disparities (e.g., unsafe neighborhoods, lack of nutritious foods, prolific alcohol promotion), students will choose to focus on one topic and will create a research question that allows them to examine aspects of schools and/or neighborhoods that may contribute to health disparities (e.g., condition of playgrounds and parks, proximity of fast food restaurants to school, promotion of high sugar foods and beverages at school events, amount of alcohol advertising on store windows). In small groups of 3-5, students will develop surveys and will collect and analyze data using Excel spreadsheets. They will compile results and create a fact sheet and advocacy outreach materials about their project. As a class, students will then partner with agency stakeholders to advocate for change in their school and community (i.e., utilize fact sheet). The curriculum will indirectly expose students to health careers (using a ladder approach showing careers that require little to substantial college training) and help to enhance students’ public speaking skills through their survey research and advocacy activities.

SMYSP’s strong track record of successful programs and follow-up lends credibility to its proposal to expand its School-based program and partnerships while still delivering impressive results. In 2004, SMYSP received a 5-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NHLBI—National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) to create the existing CVD Curriculum that is currently delivered in three schools in three different school districts, including Overfelt High. Evaluation of the CVD Curriculum to date (6 teachers, 254 students in 3 cohorts) shows that students have made significant improvements over the course of an academic year in their research skills and knowledge of the college admissions process, including increases in knowledge about how to write scientific questions, design a heart disease risk factor survey, collect survey data, analyze data, and create a scientific poster. Most of these factors show increases of 30% over the year. Students’ knowledge of college admissions and health careers also increased significantly. Additionally, of the students who have now graduated from high school, 56% attend a 4-year college and 33% attend a 2-year college, while only 11% have not continued on to college. (SMYSP also has a nationally renowned University-based program that has reached 452 students over 20 years in its summer residential program; 97% of these young women and men have been followed for up to 20 years and 81% have graduated from 4-year colleges, and of these, 51% have continued on to graduate or medical school.)


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