Archive for August, 2011

UT School of Social Work Addresses Mental Health for Middle Schoolers

Mental health and physical health are two sides of the same coin.  So why is it that it’s hard to escape messages about one when the public is almost silent on the other?  Mental health has long been stigmatized not just in the United States, but around the world.  If you admit to having a mental illness, it’s as if society has smacked a giant label that reads “CRAZY” on your forehead.  And yet, mental illness is incredibly commonplace; according to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year 26.2% of adults and 46.3% of 13- to 18-year-olds suffer from some form of mental illness, the most prevalent being anxiety disorders.

East Austin Prep is working to eliminate mental illness stigma while caring for the mental health of its middle students by offering counseling provided by the UT School of Social Work.  In neighborhoods like East Austin, where a large proportion of families are living in poverty and the unemployment rate is astronomical, it is especially important that kids have access to mental health resources.  Social work interns at East Austin Prep are readily accessible to students for one-on-one counseling, group counseling, and specialized counseling for children of incarcerated parents and stress management.

Good health is part of the foundation for living a happy, successful life, and mental health – though oft overlooked – is just as key a component to good health as physical fitness.  By offering mental health resources at the middle school level, East Austin Prep and the UT School of Social Work are doing their part to break the mental illness taboo and ensure that students have the resources they need to address any mental health issues they may be dealing with.

– Kelle Kampa
Communications Intern

August 30, 2011 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

UT School of Nursing Makes Health a Priority for Middle Schoolers

Health is currently one of the hottest topics of national interest.  A myriad of challenges loom for every active participant in the world of healthcare; doctors, insurers, government, and you and I all want to understand how to have better personal and national health, and how to improve the health care industry.  At the community level, there has been a strong push for an increased focus on health education and free screenings.  In order to best prevent health problems before they start, the focus on regular screenings and healthy living must begin at a young age.

While health class is offered as an elective in most Austin I.S.D. middle schools, East Austin Prep has taken health education one step further for its middle school students by integrating health lessons and screenings into the physical education curriculum, with help from the UT School of Nursing.  Students from the School of Nursing take simple measures of students’ health and fitness levels and teach them various aspects of maintaining good health throughout the school year.

Tying a health class to P.E. further reinforces the idea that physical fitness is an integral component to overall health and well-being.  By driving home messages about how to stay healthy while students are learning fun ways to exercise, the UT School of Nursing and East Austin College Prep have formed a successful relationship that will benefit the health of many middle schoolers to come.

– Kelle Kampa
Communications Intern

August 25, 2011 at 8:26 am Leave a comment

Travis County Constables Keep Kids Away From Gangs

Every parent has fears about the types of things their child will get involved in, from drugs to crime to unsavory body piercings.  But one thing no parent wants to see their child take part in is gang activity.  Unfortunately for some families, gangs are more prevalent and more of a risk factor for children in certain neighborhoods, especially those that are chronically impoverished and unemployed.  In order to prevent kids from joining gangs, it is vitally important for them to understand the dangers of gang membership.

East Austin College Prep is taking a proactive step against gang activity by educating their middle school students about what gangs are, how they might be pressured to join, and how to resist such pressures.  The curriculum employed is the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education And Training) Program from the U.S. Department of Justice, taught to students by carefully selected members of the Travis County Constables.  The constables give the students a realistic, non-sugar-coated look at the dangerous interplay of drugs, alcohol, and gangs.

Whereas in many schools officers in uniform may be viewed with fearful respect by students, the constables at East Austin Prep are considered part of the family.  Students have a strong relationship with the constables, not at all hesitant to ask questions or go to them for advice.  With the constables as a strong and reliable presence on campus, the students come to see the officers as resources and role models as well as instructors.

By taking an unwavering stance on gangs and steadily building close rapport with students, the Travis County Constables have established a firm, positive influence at East Austin College Prep.  Though there is no way for the constables to protect students every step of the way, teachers and parents can be confident that the knowledge and skills their kids learn from the constables will be a strong barrier between them and gang activity.

– Kelle Kampa
Communications Intern

August 22, 2011 at 9:19 am Leave a comment

From the Page to the Stage: Proyecto Teatro in East Austin

“To be, or not to be – that is the question.”  Almost everyone knows the opening line to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, but how many of us can actually say we’ve been a part of a theatrical production, one that enraptures the audience and moves them to laughter or tears or quiet contemplation?  Though the modern cinema, with its exotic locales, explosions a la Michael Bay, and an army of computer-generated images has changed people’s expectations of entertainment, there is still much to be said for the stage.

Kids in East Austin now have the opportunity to take part in theater, whether they are in the audience or showcasing their talents on stage themselves.  Proyecto Teatro is a Spanish-language theater program for kids and adults that promotes bilingual literacy, engagement in the arts, and celebration of Hispanic culture.  For the past year, the Proyecto Teatro theater troupe has been actively involved at East Austin Prep through the Latino Arts Preservation Project, using the school’s facilities to practice on weekdays and perform on weekends for students and families from the community.  In addition, the players offer performance classes to East Austin Prepsters, passing along their experience in the world of theater to the students’ eager young minds.

Proyecto Teatro performances and classes emphasize the power of literature and imagination to take you almost anyplace you want to go, figuratively and by opening doors to educational opportunities.  By performing various works of literature, such as the childhood classic Where the Wild Things Are, the theater troupe introduces audiences of all ages to the idea that books are so much more than rows of words on pages.  Proyecto Teatro offers a unique cultural-theatrical-literary experience that is not only first-rate entertainment, but also plays a part in getting kids and their parents excited about reading and the world it opens up to them.

– Kelle Kampa
Communications Intern

August 10, 2011 at 8:10 am Leave a comment

Help Build Something Big at El Centro De Familia

Something exciting is coming to Southwest Key’s Centro de Familia this Fall. It’s kinda a Big deal, brightly colored, and will provide hours of fun for children in this community. Our community members will build a brand new PlayScape for children in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood. There are two ways to be involved:

1. Review the three design options and visit this survey to vote for your favorite – it could end up as the design chosen for the PlayScape to be built on September 24th! Voting ends at 9AM on Monday, August 15.

2. Join us and other community members like yourself to help build the PlayScape.  Volunteers are needed from 8am-4pm, must be 18 years or older, and will be provided breakfast and lunch. There are many different jobs volunteers can do, for example:

  • Component assembly
  • Mixing concrete (to secure posts)
  • Hauling surfacing
  • Painting
  • Landscaping
  • Site set-up (tables, tents, etc.)
  • Site Clean-Up
  • Food service
  • Registering volunteers
  • Supervising children’s activities
  • Tool distribution/collection
PlayScape Option 1

PlayScape Option 1

PlayScape Option 2

PlayScape Option 2

PlayScape Option 3

PlayScape Option 3

August 8, 2011 at 4:42 pm Leave a comment

Watch Highlights from the 2011 Walk of Heroes Celebration!

If you weren’t able to make it to this year’s Walk of Heroes Celebration, you can watch a short video with highlights from the event!  The celebration honored Pedro Garza for his contributions that paved the way for the building of the beautiful Southwest Key Headquarters, Community Center, and East Austin College Prep in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood in Austin.  Read more about the celebration



August 8, 2011 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Food for Thought at STEM Summer Institute

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, and the kids are hungry.  Snack supplies – wheat bread, jars of peanut butter, halved bananas – are waiting for them on a table in the front of the classroom.  But before the snacking can commence, there’s a lesson planned for these kids about nutritional basics.

This is “Kids in the Kitchen,” a weekly program offered at the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Summer Institute being held at East Austin College Prep, in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Club and the KDK Harman Foundation.  Southwest Key has partnered with the Junior League of Austin and the Capital Area Food Bank to teach the kids at camp about healthy eating and lifestyle choices.  Today’s lesson is about food groups.

Two young women in blue aprons lead the class with one key visual: a brightly colored food pyramid poster that has been prominently displayed on the white board.  Each student has their own folder filled with an array of nutritional materials for them to peruse and take with them, from their own copy of the food pyramid to the recipe for the snack they’ll be making at the end of class.

The afternoon begins with a short quiz to gauge the students’ knowledge about food groups.  Once completed, class takes off.

“Can anyone give me examples of foods that belong in the grains group?”

Hands shoot up as kids give responses that include cereal, bread, and tortillas.

The teacher continues along this vein, explaining the differences between each of the food groups and their respective daily recommended serving sizes.

Every so often, there is a small hiccup in the kids’ understanding of which foods belong where.  A common misconception arises: “Does jam count as a fruit?”

“No,” the teacher tells the class, “because you wouldn’t ever eat enough jam for it to make up a whole serving of fruit.  You only spread a little bit on bread here and there, and besides, eating a whole cup of jam with a spoon sounds pretty gross to me.”  The kids giggle at the thought, and the matter is resolved.

The teacher continues, “Also, jam has a lot of added sugar in it, so it really belongs in the sweets and oils group, which we shouldn’t be eating very much of.  In the new plate chart we were looking at, there isn’t even a space for sweets and oils.  Those foods are only for special occasions.”

After their review, it’s time for a challenge.  The kids are divided into teams, and each team is given a blank sheet of paper that has a different food group name at the top.  Whichever team can come up with the most examples of foods in their category wins a prize.

After a bustling three minutes, the winners are announced.  The fruit group has come up with 26 different entries, with exotic fruits such as figs and pomegranates making an appearance on their list.

The teachers are proud of the kids, and the kids are proud of themselves.  After a brief post-test (the exact same test that was used as the pre-test, to examine how much the students retained from the class), the kids are ready to assemble their snacks for the day: open-faced peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

As the kids slice up their bananas and slather peanut butter on their bread, it is clear that they’ve gotten more out of this hour in class than just a tasty meal.  With childhood obesity on the rise, it is now more important than ever to teach children healthy habits from the get-go.  Reviewing the food pyramid may not seem like much, but the more kids are taught to think about what they’re eating, the more likely they’ll choose to pick up an apple over a candy bar when hunger strikes.

This “Kids in the Kitchen” session was only the first in a series of four throughout July.  With this class as a launching pad, the kids are off to a running start.  Wonder what’s on the plate for next week?

– Kelle Kampa
Communications Intern

August 5, 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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