The City of Anchorage recently hosted the 34th annual American Indian Science and Engineering Conference sponsored by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). Iḷisaġvik College Student Government President April Phillip, student Laura Nicolai and former Allied Health Coordinator Gloria Burnett participated in the conference, showcasing Iḷisaġvik’s efforts with the Junior Public Health Educators (JPHE) program. Gloria Burnett introduced Laura anApril before their presentation. Laura and April then explained the types of public health topics that interested them, after which they showed the programs they’d developed.
April Phillip presented the program she’d prepared for Hopson Middle School students on the issue of substance abuse. She focused her presentation on what she viewed as the three biggest abuse problems in Barrow – alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes. About this presentation, April said, “Many younger students and others hear this information from lots of people but if they are hearing it from their peers, that could make a difference. I heard feedback from one student who said, ‘We get all these older people that come to the school and talk about these kinds of things. It was good to see someone we know and see in the community that cares.’ I felt very good about myself to hear that I made a difference in this boy’s life.”
The JPHE program is fairly new to Iḷisaġvik. April was in the first class ever offered in February of 2012. Students learn how to become peer educators by picking a public health topic that interests them, researching it and then creating a presentation for their peers and community. According to Mirri Glasson-Darling, NWAHEC Healthcare Careers Coordinator, JPHE “gives students an opportunity to learn valuable research and presenting skills, as well as becoming actively aware of and more passionate about public health.”
The JPHE program received a grant from the Native Youth and Cultural Fund to continue in Barrow and expand to the villages. A cultural element has been added that will allow community Elders to address the class on the Iñupiaq perspective of public health issues. The program is partnering with Alak School in Wainwright, the Tuzzy Library and the Iñupiaq Studies program at Ilisagvik to further enhance the scope of its topics. Glasson-Darling has already traveled to Wainwright to see what support this program would have in the community and says, “I was blown away by the amount of interest we had. I thought I might get a few names of possible students, but instead I came back to Barrow with 19 names of students in 7th through 12th grades who were interested in participating. I’m really excited to see the program getting ready to really take off.”