‘You can sit and listen to how great public health is in the classroom, but it’s not until you actually go out into the community and interact with people that it really becomes eye-opening.’
On a sunny Monday morning in late April, a group of excited 2- and 3-year-olds donned mini gardening gloves as they worked to plant a community garden filled with flowers, fruits, and vegetables beside their playground at Waverly Early Head Start in Baltimore.
The community garden was made possible through the University of Maryland School of Nursing's (UMSON) Community and Public Health Environmental Initiative (CPHEI), which provides health oversight for children from birth through age 5 and their families who are served by Baltimore City Early Head Start (EHS) and Head Start (HS) centers.
Led by Laura Allen, MA, MS, RN, CPHEI program manager; Morgan Garett, MS ’17, RN, CPHEI program coordinator; and U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps Capt. Emily Yates, BSN, RN-BC, a Community/Public Health Nursing master’s student, the activity taught the children and their families about the value of growing their own fruits and vegetables and encouraged the children to try new foods — potentially providing them with a more diverse and nutritious diet.
CPHEI, a collaborative effort with the Maryland Family Network, was established in early 2016 with an initial gift of $750,000 from Mary Catherine Bunting, MS ’72, CRNP, RN. Each semester, more than 25 students from UMSON’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and RN-to-BSN programs, entry-into-practice Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) master’s option, and Community/Public Health Nursing master’s specialty participate in CPHEI under Allen’s guidance.
During the last academic year, CPHEI also began facilitating health screenings and well-child exams for children in EHS and HS centers by more than 100 UMSON advanced practice nursing students and clinical faculty. CPHEI is continuing to expand its reach and impact, thanks in part to an additional $500,000 gift from Bunting made last spring.
Now serving nearly 1,000 children per semester, CPHEI offers programs that support mental, social, and emotional development and delivers health services to all eight of Baltimore’s EHS centers and seven of Baltimore’s 47 HS centers; to date, these efforts have benefited more than 2,600 children and their families.
“Health, well-being, and school readiness are related; if children are unhealthy, they won’t be able to learn,” Allen explains. “This initiative has brought much-needed nursing services and environmental health oversight to a highly vulnerable population. If we weren’t there, there wouldn’t be as strong an emphasis on health, well-being, and how they relate to education. These families would be missing out on health screenings, health education, and general health literacy.”
UMSON student involvement at the EHS and HS centers goes far beyond teaching children how to plant fruits and vegetables. “You can sit and listen to how great public health is in the classroom, but it’s not until you actually go out into the community and interact with people that it really becomes eye-opening,” Allen says. “Students see how people live and the choices they make and how their socioeconomic status affects their health and the health of their children.”
Not all EHS and HS centers will have the space for a community garden, but CPHEI is looking forward to expanding this activity by offering a variety of container, small-space, and even classroom gardens.
Later the same week that UMSON students were working with children on the Waverly EHS garden planting, others were helping a group of children take the stage in front of a standing-room-only audience at the Black Cherry Puppet Theater, thanks to a collaborative project with the theater in West Baltimore’s Hollins Market neighborhood; the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) Program; and the UMB Community Engagement Center (CEC).
“As nursing students, it gives us real-life experience with health disparities. It helps give us an understanding of patient-centered care in West Baltimore.”
— NIKI PAPAGEORGOPOULOS
The performance of Cinderella in Our City, an original story, was the final product of a 10-session puppeteering workshop put on by the theater and facilitated by the UMBPAL Program at the CEC. UMB police officers and a clinical group of eight UMSON CNL students worked alongside the children, ages 8-13, throughout the workshop, providing hands-on mentorship and guidance to prepare for the show.
The children created their own puppets and wrote the script, telling the story of Cinderella growing up in West Baltimore in seven scenes.
The PAL Puppet Program is intended to help children in West Baltimore work through their personal traumas by doing something creative and constructive while also strengthening their reading skills and their relationship with local law enforcement. It also provides a valuable learning experience for UMSON students, allowing them to establish relationships outside of a clinical setting by working directly with young members of the community.
“This original script is really special because it’s set here in West Baltimore and each person, each line, had somebody’s fingerprint on it,” Kelly Quinn, PhD, program coordinator of the CEC, told the audience. “We thought about what it means to go to a party in West Baltimore. We also thought about how sometimes it’s hard to live here. We are going to hear all of this in this story.”
For UMSON students, the experience was a chance to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting, CNL student Niki Papageorgopoulos says.
“It shows the kids that people from outside the community really care and that we are here to support each other,” Papageorgopoulos says. “And as nursing students, it gives us real-life experience with health disparities. It helps give us an understanding of patient-centered care in West Baltimore.”
This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Nursing For/um magazine.
First photo: Yates plants seeds with Waverly Early Head Start children in the community garden. (Chris Hartlove)
Second photo: Britta Kilbourn, BA, UMSON CNL student, helps prepare for a performance of Cinderella in Our City at the Black Cherry Puppet Theater. (Matthew D'Agostino/UMB)