By Lyonel Doherty
The district’s new health promoting schools coordinator has a big job ahead of her, and it’s not one to be immediately envied.
Jennifer Martin is reaching out to at-risk students who may be falling victim to mental health woes, poor nutrition and vaping. Welcome to many parents’ nightmare.
Doing her undergrad in sociology, Martin was compelled to find out why things are the way they are in society. After figuring it out, she acquired her teaching degree and began her career in 1999.
She travelled to Nunavut and landed her first job, but soon realized she had a lot to learn about being a teacher.
From there she headed to British Columbia and worked for Yekooche First Nation.
“Living and working in a remote community helped me realize there is a lot more to being a teacher than lesson plans. It’s where I realized that the fundamental skills needed to influence kids was actually connection and caring.”
This is what led her into the school health field. For the past two years she has been promoting health in four First Nations schools in the Okanagan.
She said supporting educators in improving student health is an exciting role to play.
“There are so many teachers doing so many wonderful things that this role is a great connection piece.”
Martin noted that mental health issues are very pervasive in today’s society through all stages of life. Therefore, looking at proactive programs aimed at equipping youth with positive strategies to support good mental health will be a huge priority.
Martin will guide youth to feel empowered by connecting them to resources when they are facing mental health challenges.
As far as healthy eating is concerned, the coordinator believes that nutrition is an essential skill, but also a learned skill.
Martin said people live in an increasingly busy world, running this way and that way. And students are no different.
“I do know that kids love cooking, and so, targeting food choices and giving students skills to create simple, healthy meals is one of their favourite lessons in health.”
Another top and re-emerging concern among youth is vaping. A recent article published by the British Medical Journal indicated that vaping among Canadian youth aged 16 to 19 is up 74 per cent over last year. And it is estimated that 30 per cent of B.C. teens in Grades 10 to 12 are vaping regularly.
“Youth are engaging in something that is very harmful to their health without really knowing or questioning the health risks,” Martin said.
In fact, some health care professionals are now linking vaping with lung illnesses.
Martin said they are tackling this problem by establishing a health messaging campaign (visual posters) on school bathroom stalls.
“Youth today communicate in a highly visual way online, so presenting targeted health messaging to them when they are a captive audience is a strategy.”
Martin is well aware of the stresses and anxieties that many parents are facing today.
So her advice: learn all you can about youth issues by visiting Health Canada (online) and the Partnership for Drug Free Kids.
Talk to your kids about vaping and Google all you can.
“Engage as frequently as you can in discussions with your kids. Don’t wait until they are teens to talk about health issues,” Martin said.