COVINGTON, Ga.—Seven groups of Georgia State University Newton Campus health sciences students are going beyond the classroom lab to survey community health.
Working in conjunction with the Newton/Rockdale/Gwinnett Health Department and Project AWARE, student groups taking Mary Beth Davison’s anatomy and physiology course are collecting data about food pantries, food “deserts,” teacher and staff mental health and adolescent health.
When complete, their collected survey data will be compiled as part of Newton County’s health department’s 2019 Community Assessment Report, said DaShe’ McMillian, county community health manager. The last community health assessment was completed in 2014.
Newton students Tracy Hightower, Samantha Brown, Leshia Burns and Ally Allgood are surveying the food pantry operations and those who use them.
“We’re noting all the food pantries in Covington and surveying what their eligibility requirements are,” said Hightower. “We’re also putting together simple, non-invasive questions for those who use food pantries,” said Allgood.
While Hightower’s group is surveying the county’s food pantries and participants, other groups are surveying the county’s “food deserts” — areas without easy access to affordable or high quality fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy food choices.
Brittney Marshall, David Nobel and Marleny Rodriguez are part of the group mapping the county’s “food deserts.” They’ve created a PowerPoint and map for use by Newton County.
“We’re finding that 70 percent of the county is a ‘food desert,’” said Marshall.
She said there is a lack of healthy food options northwest of I-20 — an area served mostly by gas stations and convenience stores. The two major grocery stores are more than 14 miles from these areas, she said.
Last summer, another group of Davison’s students surveyed the Newton County area near Walton County, finding that fresh produce was only available at the Emory at Oxford College garden.
While some of Davison’s students are assessing food access in the community, students Jennifer Mayo, Elizabeth Cooper and Marissa Gray are developing a survey with another health-related focus — to gauge adolescent views on sex, sexually transmitted diseases and gang violence. McMillian of the health department is helping them develop the survey. The group hopes to bring survey questions to afterschool programs and the YMCA.
The teen surveys are anonymous but are important, said McMillian.
“Data collected now is important to our community assessment. We’ll be comparing it to the available CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data as well.”
Newton County Schools invited a group of Davison’s students to survey the overall mental health of staff and teachers.
“Our ultimate goal is to give faculty and staff the tools to improve their own mental health so they can pass that information on to their students,” said Newton student Ashton Weeks.
Part of Project AWARE, the program was born out of federal legislation to increase access to mental health services for students. The five-year federal grant, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, was awarded to 20 states, including Georgia. Through an application process, the Georgia Department of Education selected three Local Education Agencies to develop processes and procedures for connecting youth and families to community-based mental health services.