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Madonna Heights School Student Wins Statewide Environmental Health Art Contest

December 19, 2019 / SCO News

Shira, a student in SCO Family of Services’ Madonna Heights School in Dix Hills, recently won a statewide art competition sponsored by the New York State Children’s Environmental Health Centers (NYSCHECK). Participants of the contest, Drawing a Healthy New York, were asked to submit a drawing based on the question: “What does a healthy New York look like to you?” Shira’s personal, powerful and edgy interpretation earned her first prize. Her winning design will be showcased on the NYSCHECK website.

The art contest stemmed from a community-based project that Madonna Heights School students have had with NYSCHECK for the past several years – a collaboration that educates and empowers these young women to take an active role in environmental health issues. The program, known as vOICE, gives students a seat at the table in the conversation about the environment.

The Long Island NYSCHECK, one of seven regional branches statewide, is a coalition of organizations interested in promoting environmental health. The LI region is comprised of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Northwell Health, SUNY Stony Brook, LIU Post and SUNY Old Westbury.

Doctors, clinicians and medical students from the Center come to Madonna Heights School to share their expertise. They mentor students through discussions and hands-on activities as they explore issues and help students determine their interests. Mentors meet with small groups to flush out those interests and provide data, guidance and support as the students delve deeper into their selected topic.

The semester-long curriculum culminates with student projects dealing with the topics they have chosen to explore. Topics have been far ranging, touching on everything from recycling to cancer. Each student presents her project to an audience of mentors, staff and fellow students. They are encouraged to utilize their creativity to help illustrate their point and students have done so enthusiastically – creating posters, slide shows, videos and more. Some student projects have even led to campus wide initiatives, including one to reduce waste by eliminating Styrofoam in the school cafeteria.

“Our program is a catalyst to create instruments of change,” said Karen Miller, President of Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition. “We’re hoping these girls will become the guardians of our future.”

Mentors are key to the program. They build trusting relationships with the students and help the girls find their voice. Throughout this partnership, girls have developed communication, collaboration and leadership skills and have gained an added sense of pride in themselves, their peers and their community. They learn that there are choices they can make that can affect the environment as well as their health. They become more aware of the things around them and they learn that they have the ability to find solutions to problems and the power to instigate change.

vOICE is a popular program with the students and continues to grow each semester. The girls are hoping to build on their experience by adding junior mentors from theirs Ambassadors group in order to incorporate leadership opportunities into the program.

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