Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Community-based learning is an essential part of the scholastic experience at UNC Charlotte’s College of Health and Human Services, and through a biannual community health fair hosted at local schools, students in the School of Nursing have been helping families across Charlotte for more than 20 years.

Each semester, UNC Charlotte nursing students teach sound health practices in K-12 schools. Since 2014, the health fairs have been held at David Cox Elementary, just down the street from UNC Charlotte in the University City neighborhood.

The health fairs address a variety of topics, chosen in collaboration by faculty and school officials to meet the individual needs of the school and its students and families.

“To your right there may be students doing jumping jacks, to your left a group learning about and choosing healthy meal options, and in front of you another group participating in a game to learn about computer safety,” said Cynthia Toth, a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing who helped launch the health fair program in the 1990s. “The interaction with the children and families is always a high point of the semester, a time to connect with other human beings and demonstrate the caring and knowledge that defines a nurse.”

In preparation for the health fairs, undergraduate nursing students form small groups and choose one of the preferred topics to research, then develop a proposal to submit to faculty advisors. Once approved, the students work together to build the display and present the fair. The presentations are an integral part of maternity and pediatric nursing courses.

Student Meredith Carroll presented at a recent fair. Her group talked to David Cox Elementary students about home safety, including a portion on fire safety that incorporated stickers and interactive books donated from a local fire department.

“Throughout my career, I can imagine I will have to work with people of all different ages,” she said. “This health fair helped me to interact with younger kids and to be able to explain things in simpler terms. Sometimes words aren't always the best teaching method and being able to figure out what to use to teach and interact with your patients is very important.” 

Following the health fairs, the nursing students donate their teaching materials to the partner K-12 school to meet ongoing health education needs. Many students say they walk away with a renewed passion for their chosen field.

“My pediatric clinical and this health fair confirmed my love for children and my overwhelming desire to treat and care for them,” said BSN student Max Thompson. “I hope to one day pursue a career in pediatrics and this interaction has enlightened me to the ability of these children. They are smarter, more driven, and more receptive than I could have ever imagined.”