CTE’s Got Calcium

June 11, 2019

For a group of students in Putnam | Northern Westchester’s Medical Assistant program at the Tech Center, a simple class assignment grew into a school-wide public outreach program focused on the importance of calcium in one’s diet. Along the way, the students learned how to build a survey, analyze statistical data, and conduct a multi-pronged public information campaign.

“We were completing a class assignment on nutrition and started to wonder, almost jokingly, what would happen if we asked everybody in the school about their nutritional habits,” said Samantha Mills of Walter Panas. With teacher Maria Pontriand’s support and encouragement, Samantha and four of her classmates, Brianna Lux of Somers, Heather Van Asselt of Croton and Caitlin Varone of Walter Panas, set out to formulate a school-wide survey.
The students worked with Principal Stephen Lowery to refine their survey questions and consulted with Education Technology Coordinator Dr. Jen Harriton-Wilson about data collection. When the survey was ready, they sent it out to their classmates via QR code, electronic links and paper copies. Much to their surprise, they received more than 300 responses.

And that was just the beginning.

“We met with Dr. Wilson again, this time to analyze the data,” said Samantha. The students noticed a statistical link between nutritional knowledge and calcium intake and decided to embark on a public information effort to improve their fellow students’ health.

“We really wanted to get students interested in the importance of calcium,” said Caitlin, who dressed in a cow costume as part of the group’s public outreach efforts. “We created informational posters, shared nutritional facts in the school’s daily announcements and designated two days as ‘Calcium Days,’ during which we set up an info table, distributed cheese sticks and gave presentations in all CTE classes.”

After the month-long campaign, the four students put together another survey to see if they had effected positive changes among their fellow students. The second survey showed that the message had been received and yielded real results, with a statistical increase in milk consumption among 17-year-olds at the Tech Center.

The students presented their project to BOCES administrators and their parents. “These students did a wonderful job,” said District Superintendent Dr. James Ryan. “Nutrition is so critically important, and they really accomplished their goal of improving the lifestyles of their fellow students.”