By Sarah Plummer
It makes sense that school-based health clinics concern themselves with the physical well-being of school children.
Education specialists at New River Health Association’s Fayette and Nicholas county school-based clinics, however, strive to also provide mental, social and health guidance for students.
Some of the most important work they do is character education.
Rosalie McCauley, education specialist based at the Mount Hope Elementary School Based Clinic, explained, “I really want to develop a caring school climate and help to reduce inappropriate behaviors like bullying and to help students grow into caring adults who don’t mistreat each other.”
Utilizing funding from the United Way of Southern West Virginia, McCauley endorses the Sad Mad Glad book series, which “helps kids identify their feelings and promotes good behavior and responsible decision making,” she said.
And programs like Sad Mad Glad equip younger students with the skills they need to make better decisions when they are older, she explained.
“When you start talking about good decision-making in the second grade, older children who are faced with decisions — be it bullying or drugs — are equipped to make a decision that is right for them instead of wrong for them,” McCauley said.
Students who are able to learn communication skills and methods to diffuse a conflict are less likely to become bullies.
“Bullying is just an extension of poor character education and inappropriate behavior,” she continued. “What we discourage is the attitude that it is OK to be verbally or physically violent toward someone that they have a disagreement with. I want to teach them that you can use your words and mind to decrease bullying.”
McCauley takes character education and anti-bullying programs into Mount Hope, Fayetteville and New River elementaries and Collins Middle School.
Tina Blair, education specialist for Summersville School Based Health Program, does many of the same types of character education elements as McCauley, but her audience is middle and high school students.
She focuses on bullying, kids at risk of dropping out, drug awareness, teen pregnancy and other issues pertinent to older students.
“I still deal with a lot of the same issues, but on a different level,” Blair explained. “Bullying may escalate to issues of dating violence.
“We want kids to be healthier mentally and physically, so we do what is needed — address needs as they come up. I do therapy and mental health counseling to help the counselor because there is such a need for it right now,” she said.
Blair said that one positive program she has addresses body image and self-esteem by teaching students how advertising and media affect our health.
McCauley agreed that sometimes they feel as if they are making up for a lack of positive role models for students on TV and film.
“We can’t fix the world, but we can help teach kids to be kinder and act kinder ... but we also need to have a school climate that facilitates that,” she said.
Both specialists work on targeting students who are at-risk of dropping out.
McCauley says this begins on the elementary level by looking at absences, suspension and behavior.
These women also work on promoting health in a more traditional way, by making sure students know proper hygiene and disease prevention measures.
McCauley partners with the West Virginia University Extension Agency and utilizes their Wise Guys Nutrition Program to teach the benefits of a low-fat, high-fiber diet paired with exercise and plenty of water.
“Funding from the United Way is so helpful because I can buy simulated tubes of fat and show kids the difference between the fat content in a cheeseburger versus a chicken sandwich,” she said.
“These kids are like sponges,” McCauley concluded. “They love to be challenged and to learn and it is a privilege to go in and challenge them. Our jobs challenge their behavior, eating habits and health habits. I find that once they learn they really try to make the best choices they can.”
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