Building a culture of health in the green: Participatory learning and action to address air and soil quality in rural underserved communities

  • Project Description

    The goal of the “Building a Culture of Health and Action” Project is to create and pilot a national model of STEAM education that engages 8th-12th graders and provides them with the tools, skills and support to document, reflect upon, and communicate issues of concern (through advisory boards and Photovoice); collect environmental samples (through co-created citizen/community science); and make sense of data so that their results can inform actions at the local, regional, and even national level (through data visualization and environmental communication). Rurality is a social determinant of health and poverty rates in rural AZ are 24.2%, compared with 13% in urban areas of the state. In addition, asthma is more prevalent among adult females in the targeted communities located in Gila and Pinal rural counties. Concomitantly, these counties also have a higher incidence of resource extraction and abandoned agricultural fields. The proposed educational program is focused on social determinants of health and soil and air quality in rural medically underserved communities in AZ that neighbor resource extraction. Science education objectives include understanding: (1) how advisory boards can foster the development of critical thinking and communication skills; (2) how a summer certification program (rooted in intersectionality, co-created citizen/community science, and visual art) can increase science and environmental health literacy (EHL); (3) how an equity-centered community design approach to data sharing strategies can build a participant’s EHL; and (4) how to successfully broaden participation in STEAM learning by historically underrepresented individuals living in environmental justice (EJ) communities.
    Aim 1. Establish a Community Advisory Board and Youth Advisory Board (C/YAB)
    Challenge: The Southwestern US is particularly vulnerable to climate change and the spread of metal(loid) toxicants through wind dispersion. Lines of communication across age groups are needed to build community governance models, networks, and capacities to address these pressing issues.
    Approach: Community and youth-led advisory boards will provide critical platforms for traditionally underrepresented community members to learn about and participate in environmental health decision-making.
    Impact: By creating spaces for critical dialogue and community building efforts in rural, medically underserved EJ areas, this SEPA project aim will build a culture of environmental health and justice and increase community cohesiveness and public participation in environmental decision-making.

    Aim 2. Aim 2: Build an Intersectionality in Justice and Ecosystem Health (I-JEH) Summer Certificate Program for promotoras, residents, teachers and 8th-12th graders within historically underrepresented populations who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental pollution
    Challenge: There is also a shortage of informal science education programming in these rural EJ areas, reducing engagement with science and discovery. Very few informal science education programs adequately recognize rurality as a health determinant. Addressing rural health disparities, and acknowledging the nexus of complex interactions between individuals, culture, and environment is critical to science education in the targeted areas.
    Approach: Build an immersive summer certification program for adults and 8-12th grade participants that is rooted in public participation in scientific research, science communication, and visual art.
    Impact: Participants will increase their: (1) self-efficacy for learning and doing science (2) understanding of the scientific process, (3) skills related to using instruments, (4) ability to follow data collection protocols, and (5) ability to communicate environmental issues. Lastly participant’s environmental monitoring data will inform policy initiatives and town planning.
    Aim 3. Use an equity-centered community design approach to design and evaluate data sharing strategies, boosting participants’ environmental heath literacy
    Challenge: The targeted areas are suffering from information and technological disparities. Less than 30% of the population in the targeted areas have internet access. 17.7% of the rural population has not completed high school and only 15.7% have completed college, compared to AZ urban areas at 12.6% and 30.2%, respectively.
    Approach: Co-design data sharing strategies with 8th-12th graders and evaluate whether the selected data sharing mechanisms lead to changes in motivation, knowledge and personal and community self-efficacy.
    Impact: This effort will increase EHL by making contaminants visible and “real”, connecting exposures to prevention practices, building a culture that promotes self-efficacy for learning and communicating science, and increase public participation in environmental health decision-making.

    Overall Impact: Arid/semiarid environments account for ~40% of the global land area and are inhabited by one-third of the world’s population. These populations are vulnerable to climate change and contaminant exposures via PM inhalation. This learning research will lead to a deeper understanding of how the democratization of science impacts EHL as well as individual and community’s self-efficacy in rural, medically underserved EJ communities.

  • Abstract

    The Integrated Environmental Science and Health Risk Laboratory, in collaboration with multiple Arizona partners, propose to launch the project, “Building a culture of health in the green: Participatory learning and action to address air and soil quality in rural underserved communities”. Our overall goal is to create a national deep engagement learning model of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) education that empowers students as environmental health advisory board members, photographers, scientists, and designers living in environmental justice (EJ) communities. EJ communities refers to areas affected by disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards and increased vulnerability to those hazards. There are fundamental and critical challenges that exist in environmental justice communities. Youth growing up in these spaces need the preparation to navigate through these challenges and be the future pillars of structural change. Students and community members will acquire the tools, skills and support needed to (1) interpret intersectionality and environmental data and (2) communicate project results and recommend actions at local, regional, and national levels. The proposed project centers on the social and environmental factors that affect health and justice for 8th – 12th graders in rural Arizona communities with significant environmental health hazards posed from historical or active resource extraction activities. Intersectionality and environmental health and data literacy are essential for deriving meaning from the results of scientific inquiry. Potential outcomes for the proposed project are increased understanding and integration of intersectionality, environmental health (specifically air and soil quality), and data literacy among both youth and researchers, and the application such information to achieve social justice and health equity in EJ communities. This research education program aims to leverage intersectionality’s transformational power and help move the collaborating EJ communities closer to achieving social justice and health equity. Through the approach and rigorous learning research, the outcomes of this work will provide the evidence-base needed for building a culture of health in the green.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    All the environmental monitoring data collected, and overall programmatic outcomes, will be co-managed and reported back to families, since we will be maintaining effective collaboration with government agencies, community members, and other members (e.g., advisory board) of the public sphere, there will be bidirectional communication throughout the entire project. For example, youth and community advisory boards will be established, we will be working alongside community champions, teachers, students, and Superintendents, and engaging multi-organizational (local, state, and federal stakeholders) meetings hosted and organized by PI. Program outcomes and summaries of aggregate results packets with Photovoice and environmental monitoring findings will be disseminated via social media, including a website, Face-book group, Twitter account, and Instagram. A website will be generated with a mobile-first approach to create seamless interactions that are responsive to any device our audience may be using. We will work with the participants and promotoras to disseminate the results at and through the appropriate venues (e.g., Promotoras give presentations in schools and at neighborhood association meetings in the targeted area). The Photovoice and environmental monitoring data will also be converted into a traveling exhibit to showcase findings across communities.
    The outcomes of the entire program will be: (1) published in relevant journals, (2) presented at professional meetings (e.g., American Geophysical Union, North American Association for Environmental Education, Citizen Science Association), (3) taught and discussed in college courses such as “Introduction to Environmental Science,” “Ecosystem Health and Justice,” “Redevelopment of Contaminated Lands” and “Translating Environmental Science” and 4) presented to the County Board of Supervisors, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Arizona Department of Health Services, and the USEPA Office of Environmental Justice and Brown-fields Revitalization Program.

Project Audience

Rural environmental justice communities

Subjects Addressed

Environmental justice, social justice, Environmental heath, Environmental Science, Visual Art, Science Communication, Science Literacy, Data Literacy, Environmental Health Literacy