Congratulations to UTHealth School of Public Health El Paso Campus Dean, Kristina Mena, PhD for being awarded one of the first four grants under the Children’s Healthy Learning Environments in Low-Income and/or Minority Communities competition, receiving $200,000 to launch their project, “Outreach for Healthy Learning Environments in West Texas”. This $2 million national grant program competition was funded by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to support children’s environmental health by building capacity through activities that identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks in underserved communities.
Through the project, UTHealth School of Public Health researchers will partner with the Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health to build capacity for healthier learning environments within low-income schools in the Paso del Norte Region. The main objectives are to provide culturally relevant information for school decision-makers to identify health risk drivers, demonstrate best practices for maintaining an environmentally safe school, and share preparedness procedures in anticipation of an adverse event.
Schools throughout the region will undergo assessments to identify current hazards and potential risks such as improperly stored cleaning chemicals, flooding, air quality, stagnant water and pipes, mold, and lead-based paint – much of which are found in older school buildings.
“It is important to inform those who attend and those who work at the schools of the relationship between exposure to hazards and human health impact” said Mena. “The training will be provided in-person and through online modules both in English and in Spanish.”
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that plans and protocols could benefit schools for other future adverse events. Commonly touched surfaces such as door knobs, desks, pencils, and pens are common for the transmission of dangerous pathogens. In addition, many schools have air and water quality concerns. By understanding how and where threats lie, the schools can develop and implement plans for how to address such occurrences.
Key contributors to the grant proposal included Associate Professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health, Louis Brown, PhD and research coordinator, Denise Vasquez, MPH.