Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

October 28, 2010

 Top Story

THHS Kid’s Health Fair exposes youth to healthcare professions

By B.L. Azure

Ryan Smith from spectrUM monitors the hands-on learning anatomy portion of the University of Montana affiliated traveling exhibit aimed at elementary school students. (B.L. Azure photo)
Ryan Smith from spectrUM monitors the hands-on learning anatomy portion of the University of Montana affiliated traveling exhibit aimed at elementary school students. (B.L. Azure photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — The tribal education review team is, among other things, searching for answers on how to get young tribal members interested in the math and science professions for potential employment within the various tribal departments.

High on the list is educating members of the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribal confederacy for potential professional medical positions within the Tribal Health and Human Service Department.

THHS Director Kevin Howlett has stated many times in public education forums and elsewhere that there is a lack of qualified tribal members for the licensed professional positions within the tribal healthcare system.

He said very, very few tribal members have gone on to the professional schools that educate doctors, dentists, physical therapists and other such medical professions.

Holly Truit, director of the spectrUM Discovery Area at the University of Montana shows elementary students how the head bone is connected to the neck bone and neck bone is connected to the backbone and so on at the THHS Kids' Health Fair. (B.L. Azure photo)
Holly Truit, director of the spectrUM Discovery Area at the University of Montana shows elementary students how the head bone is connected to the neck bone and neck bone is connected to the backbone and so on at the THHS Kids' Health Fair. (B.L. Azure photo)

Many times Howlett has gone before the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council to seek permission to hire non-tribal members for the professional positions within his department due to the lack of qualified tribal members.

It’s a quandary that the Education Planning and Review Team are trying to unravel. Most EdPaRT members agree that a large piece of the puzzle is finding ways to spark interest in young students about the healthcare professions.

Perhaps that piece of the puzzle is just down the road in Missoula and a health-related endeavor called spectrUM Discovery Area at the University of Montana’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences.

It is a hands-on health science-learning exhibit located in the Skaggs Building at UM. Part of the program is mobile and it hits the road taking hands-on learning to various schools throughout the state. The program is also targeting Indian reservations in its effort to plant seeds that may someday sprout doctors, pharmacists and dentists.

Students from the Kicking Horse Job Corps nursing program manned several health stations at the THHS Kids' Health Fair including the blood-sugar testing stop. (B.L. Azure photo)
Students from the Kicking Horse Job Corps nursing program manned several health stations at the THHS Kids' Health Fair including the blood-sugar testing stop. (B.L. Azure photo)

Last week they were a prominent part of the THHS Kids’ Health Fair at the Mission Community Center. And it appeared that the mobile hands-on science-learning center hooked kids like a good lure lands the big one that always got away before.

“The program is not just for the young kids although they are the focus when we bring it to the schools,” said Ryan Smith, spectrUM outreach public educator. “We want to start to expose them to the world of science around them. Part of our mission is to tour the state’s rural and tribal areas, the Indian reservations because they don’t have local access to these types of programs.”

It is the only program of its type in the Northwest United States and its primary focus is introducing elementary students to the science professions especially the healthcare professions.

“We focus on health professions and let the kids know what kinds of jobs there are in the many health fields,” said Lisa Woods, spectrUM business manager. “We bring the health sciences and technology to all Montanans.”

Cece Tellier Brown gets a kick out of the spectrUM cleansing station that illuminated just how unclean clean hands can be despite washing. Holly Truit said the key to cleanliness is proper washing technique that scrubs all parts of the hands including under the fingernails. (B.L. Azure photo)
Cece Tellier Brown gets a kick out of the spectrUM cleansing station that illuminated just how unclean clean hands can be despite washing. Holly Truit said the key to cleanliness is proper washing technique that scrubs all parts of the hands including under the fingernails. (B.L. Azure photo)

“When it comes to health and medical professions you have to start working with the students early,” Smith said. “It is a journey where you can figure out who and what you are. Who you are emotionally and what you are physically.”

“Often times the sciences take a back seat when it comes to other courses at schools,” Woods said. “And the health courses are even more important but they are often the first types of courses that get cut back when it comes to budgets.”

The spectrUM program’s traveling exhibit has been to all the reservations except Rocky Boy’s. They were scheduled to go there this spring but the reservation was inundated with rains then flooding that caused much damage to roads and bridges. Consequently they had to reschedule and it’s on the itinerary.

The spectrUM traveling exhibit was all about hands on learning like putting the components of the heart together. (B.L. Azure photo)
The spectrUM traveling exhibit was all about hands on learning like putting the components of the heart together. (B.L. Azure photo)

“We specifically sought funding so we could take this to the state Indian reservations,” Smith said.

The program was put together by medical professionals from the Western Montana Health and Education Center in Missoula, one of four regional in the western United States.

A part of the tours to rural area and Indian reservation schools is the inclusion of local healthcare professionals. That way a local face is put on the face of health and science.

“This is grassroots education that exposes children to the local medical connections in their communities by bringing everyday components science to their communities and exposes them to the local healthcare providers,” Smith said.

The eyes have it. Margene Asay and Ryan Smith helped youngsters put together the anatomical components of the eye. (B.L. Azure photo)
The eyes have it. Margene Asay and Ryan Smith helped youngsters put together the anatomical components of the eye. (B.L. Azure photo)

“The bottom line is to inspire the next generation of physicians and other healthcare practitioners,” said SpectrUM Director Holly Truit, adding that the Mission Community Center was a buzz of youthful inquisitiveness with children buzzing from one station to another. She praised Margene Asay and the rest of the THHS staff involved in setting up the Kids’ Health Fair.

“We just want all the kids aware of their health,” said Margene Asay, THHS health educator and manager of the reservation tribal fitness centers. The target age of the THHS Kid’s Health was third, fourth and fifth grade students. “The health fair is a good way to reach out to them and teach them about health. I don’t think we can do enough of this type of education.”

The THHS set up various health stations that checked blood sugar, cholesterol, height and weight and blood pressure as well as give flu shots.

The Buckle Up Montana program, THHS Safe on all Roads, Tobacco Prevention, Dental Hygiene and Diabetes programs had various stations

Smoked ham. The THHS smoking prevention program used pig lungs to display the damage to them caused by tobacco smoke. (B.L. Azure photo)
Smoked ham. The THHS smoking prevention program used pig lungs to display the damage to them caused by tobacco smoke. (B.L. Azure photo)

The Kicking Horse Job Corps Nursing Program manned several of the stations.

There was even a haunted house spookingly manned by members of the fitness centers.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Washington Foundation and PPL Montana provided funds to bring spectrUM to the reservation.

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