Feb. 27 2018

A Healthy Path to Succeeding in High School and Beyond

An afterschool health education program equips students to live healthful lives, while advocating to advance the health of their communities along the way.

More than 50 high school students converged on the Columbia Morningside campus in January to celebrate BridgeUP, an afterschool academic and youth development program for young people in low-income communities. The program goes well beyond homework help, equipping students with the tools, skills, and motivation to succeed in high school, college, and beyond. Among the program’s lessons for its student “scholars”: health is critical to reaching your potential.

BeWell, the health and wellness component of BridgeUP, was developed by the Mailman School’s Renee and Alwyn Cohall with funding from the Helen Gurley Brown Trust. BeWell trains Master’s students from Mailman, Teacher’s College, and the Columbia School of Social Work to serve as health coaches. Through workshops and tutoring sessions held at branches of the New York Public Library, coaches guide young participants on topics such as physical fitness, healthy eating, sleep hygiene, and coping with stress. They also facilitate access to clinical care and counseling when needed. (Graduate students interested in working with BeWell should contact Renee Cohall for more information.)
 
“Good health is the cornerstone of success,” says Alwyn Cohall, professor of Sociomedical Sciences. “The idea of BridgeUP and BeWell is to empower students to improve the way they study and take care of their health.”

Adds Renee Cohall, “The purpose of this event was to help scholars, parents, and staff understand that graduating high school and taking care of your health not only provides you with more life options but improves the overall health of your community.”
 
The Cohalls, who co-direct BeWell, bring more than 25 years of experience in working with high-risk youth throughout New York City. Alwyn Cohall is director of the Harlem Health Promotion Center; Renee Cohall serves as its director of special initiatives. (Learn more about their work and opportunities to be a BeWell coach in a Q&A with Alwyn Cohall conducted by the Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion.)
 
The Morningside event saw the unveiling of the #NOT62 campaign video featuring BridgeUP and BeWell scholars (watch below). A collaboration between BeWell and the Bronx district office of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Health, the campaign references the borough’s last-place standing in the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Ranking Report for New York State’s 62 counties. #NOT62 aims to overcome this status by engaging community members to combat negative notions of health and create positive role models.
 
Maria Oliva, a senior at the Gramercy Arts High School and BeWell peer educator, describes #NOT62 as a “health movement.” As part of this effort, she sets an example by committing to regular physical activity. “Every day I get off the bus one stop away from my destination” and walk the rest of the way, she explains.

Oliva, who been accepted by several colleges and plans to be a doctor, is not alone in her enthusiasm for the campaign. Ezequiel Lopez, a senior at Mott Hall Bronx High School, says, “#NOT62 is important to me because it’s important to be healthy. You want to be as healthy as possible and just to feel good about yourself in your own skin, and to be confident. It’s good to be confident.”