Have you ever wondered how mental health affects teens’ performance at school? Or how poor vision could impact students’ academic achievement? Or maybe you are curious about whether students who receive free and reduced school lunches feel food insecure? These are questions that the students at Steel Valley School District, a Live Well Allegheny member, are exploring through student-led research projects. The students are part of the Pitt-Bridge to College Program (Pitt-Bridge). Pitt-Bridge provides a framework wherein students choose a community health topic, engage in community-based participatory research, and develop an intervention based on research findings.
Pitt-Bridge is an extracurricular program that includes Science, Technology, Research Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STREAM) learning through health science clubs. The health science clubs offer an opportunity to participate in student-led, relevant community health research. The program prepares students to effectively work with others and become STREAM leaders in their community. The goals of the program are to increase the number of students entering and graduating from college, and to improve community health through student-led and facilitated research and education projects. Pitt-Bridge specifically targets underserved communities in developing its school-based health science clubs.
Currently, Steel Valley hosts three health science clubs – two at the high school, and one at the middle school. On April 21st, Steel Valley hosted a Health and Wellness Fair featuring the Pitt-Bridge students’ research projects. Students involved in the Pitt-Bridge Program presented results from their research projects on relevant community health topics that affect the student body, and the broader community. Divided into three sessions, students and community experts came together to share information and resources with families and community members on each topic.
The first of three projects presented focused on determining whether social isolation was a problem at Steel Valley. The group produced and distributed a survey to other students, and found that approximately 30 percent of students felt isolated. In response to the research findings, the students created a support group to offer a space for peer-to-peer interaction, problem-solving, and friendship-building. The session also featured mental health specialists who work with individuals for counseling, suicide prevention, and managing stress through mindfulness.
The second project focused on “the right to sight” – or vision care for all people. The project considered the connection between vision and success in school, and featured information and resources around vision care in the community. The third and final topic was on food insecurity in Steel Valley. The health science club students conducted survey research about whether students feel food insecure. All students at Steel Valley are eligible for free school lunch due to a provision under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. While the research findings indicated that the students are not feeling food insecure, the survey indicated a desire for healthier options at school lunch. Currently, the club is working on connecting students with the food service department to expand food choice at lunch.
Pitt-Bridge offers an opportunity for students to engage in community health research, learn from peers and experts, and make progress towards higher education. Pitt-Bridge is looking to expand the program into additional schools for the 2018-2019 school year. If you are a Live Well Allegheny School, and are interested in participating in the program, please contact Dr. Robert Branch at email@example.com.