Communities across America face devastating realities: shorter life expectancies, the opioid epidemic, obesity, Native American health disparities, migrant and newcomer community integration, mental health challenges and poverty, just to name a few. To address these complex and often interconnected challenges, we seek to leverage the Cooperative Extension System, including young people, as catalysts for wellness among their families, friends and communities. Well Connected Communities is an effort to cultivate wellness across the country. America’s Cooperative Extension System, in partnership with National 4-H Council, is equipping communities to come together with the focus on being healthier at every stage of life. With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health, these communities are cultivating wellness and fostering a culture of health in America.

Girl Scouts offer many STEM activities for the 21,000 girl members in the 27 counties covered by Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania. It is why they feel it is important for girls to have a single-sex organization. Lisa Shade, marketing director of Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, says, “The all-girl environment really gives them that safe, supportive space where they are free from the social pressures of a co-ed environment, and as girls get older, it’s common that those social pressures maybe cause hesitation in girls.” This is especially true with STEM, where women are under-represented. Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania Executive Director Pat Burkart says the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will always remain separate. “We are separate organizations and were never been meant to be the same thing,” Burkhart says. “We strive to build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place through leadership development.”

Students at Bowie Middle School had the opportunity earlier this month to use the da Vinci Xi surgical robot and simulator to get a feel for the medical profession. The real-world opportunity was made possible by the new Access project. Local hospitals have agreed to partner with the middle schools in Ector County ISD. Rick Napper, MCHS president and CEO, took an interest in bringing the robot to the Bowie and Odessa College campuses. He said the partnership is a way to enhance the education process in the community. The project is split into three strategic directions, Napper said. The first is to bring in technology to teach kids what skills will help them in the future, second is to support the teachers with things they made need in their classrooms and third is to mentor students.

Earlier this month, Sci-Tech was named a National Blue Ribbon School. The award is given to schools recognized for closing the achievement gap among students and demonstrating that all students can achieve at high levels. It’s a major milestone for Sci-Tech High and the whole Harrisburg School District. “Let me tell you, I’m a proud Harrisburg High School alum, and so this is not just an accomplishment for Sci-Tech, this is a great day for Harrisburg School District because all of our students come from the city of Harrisburg,” said Dr. Sieta Achampong, principal of Sci-Tech High School. Sci-Tech is one of just 19 schools in the state to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award this year.

Philadelphia city officials consider Southwest Philadelphia to be an “out-of-school-time desert” because there are few high quality, organized afterschool programming options there compared to other sections of the city. But children who live in these areas “should have the same access to chess teams or debate teams,” Sara Morningstar, director of programs at After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP), said. “They should have the same access to those opportunities. School days are so structured and afterschool programs let kids do what they want to do.” ASAP, a nonprofit that facilitates free and low-cost afterschool and summer clubs around the city of Philadelphia, started an afterschool program at the Francis Myers Recreation Center in Southwest Philadelphia. Morningstar said the organization chose Francis Myers because of the dearth of afterschool options in the area.

Both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly passed the final compromise opioid legislation (HR 6) – sending the bill to the president’s desk for signature this month. The legislation recognizes a role for youth-serving organizations such as afterschool and summer learning providers in youth opioid prevention as well as trauma-informed care provisions. The bipartisan opioid legislation agreement preserves the Senate version’s strong child welfare and trauma-informed care provisions, including $50 million for new trauma-informed care and mental health integration grants for schools. A special thank you is owed to Senators Murray and Alexander who supported these provisions and the afterschool professionals who weighed in on the value of afterschool in addressing the opioid epidemic at a Senate Afterschool Caucus briefing this past summer.

PSAYDN at Center for Schools and Communities
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