Barbara Hayes loves seeing the changes in her young health ambassadors.
An example was a young girl named Faith, who rarely spoke to anyone but was always listening and attentive. She finally came out of her shell during a family night event at C.A. Weis Elementary School.
“We got really busy doing vital signs and Faith all of a sudden steps up, grabs my clipboard and she said, ‘Miss Barbara, you put those chairs against those walls, line those students up. We need to get these kids’ blood pressure, we need to get their height, we need to get their weight,’” Hayes recalled, jokingly adding, “She took over, now we cannot get her to be quiet.”
That type of confidence and passion is exactly what Hayes and her team hope to inspire through the Weis Health Ambassador program at C.A. Weis Elementary School.
The Weis Health Ambassador program is run by Community Health Northwest Florida, a health center with a focus on providing quality health care to underserved segments of the community.
Community Health Northwest Florida has a pediatric clinic at C.A. Weis, and the ambassador program is intended to give students experience in the health care field and some basic training and motivation to potentially pursue a future career in the field.
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Students learn basic health care skills like taking vital signs, using a vision screener and conducting hearing tests. Every second Thursday of the month, a guest from Community Health Northwest Florida comes in to speak to them about topics ranging from ophthalmology to yoga.
Hayes is a medical assistant at the Weis pediatric clinic and head of the ambassador program. The clinic has been inside the school for more than 10 years but the ambassador program took off in 2019. Students are nominated for the program by teachers and a staff member chooses the participants.
The students start the program in September and come in three times a week. Along with health care skills, they learn basic office skills like how to answer the phone, take messages, greet patients, take office inventory and work in Microsoft Word.
They throw events like Weis Eyes, where an ophthalmologist provides health screenings and free glasses for Weis students. The health ambassadors are able to work alongside optometrist Dr. Mary Charbonneau and perform eye exams on their fellow students. The ambassadors also hosted a family night where they took the vital signs of their classmates, parents and teachers.
Chandra Smiley, CEO of Community Health Northwest Florida, said she is planning to open up another clinic in Pine Forest High School at the end of this year or beginning of next year.
Hayes said she hopes they can also open a clinic in a middle school so students from Weis can funnel into that school, then into Pine Forest. Hayes hopes to find other means of staying in touch with students over the years and encouraging them to stay on the path to a career in health care.
“We have to keep pushing our kids to want more, and elementary school is where we have to start. You have to begin here because … they think, ‘Hey, I’m in Truman Arms. This is where I’m gonna be for the rest of my life.’ No, you can be so much more,” Hayes said. “We just want to help you get there. We’re going to push you and keep you going.”
For more information go to Community Health Northwest Florida’s Facebook page.