Tuesday, May 2, 2017 12:00 AM

School partnership encourages an early interest in health

Community Regional Medical Centers partnered with Birney Elementary School to get kids moving, reading and dreaming. Over the past two years, the hospital has donated sports equipment, books and academic incentives, and sponsored a field trip to expose students to healthcare careers. Birney sits in the heart of Fresno. Among its 850 students, nearly a third are English learners and 96% are eligible for free or reduced price meals, a marker of poverty. More than half of Birney’s students do not meet state standards in language arts or math proficiency.

Activity incentives address obesity

Two years ago, Craig Wagoner, Community’s CEO of hospitals, met with Birney’s campus culture director Robert Garcia. The two men are friends and wanted to do something that would address high childhood obesity rates. The students at Birney live in an area without a lot of parks and many don’t have access to recreation after school.
Community helped Garcia launch and continues to support the Birney BEARS Program (Be Active, Be Readers, Be Super), which has 98% of students participating in a walk/run club. The 855 students in the walk/run club logged 15,781 miles over eight months of walking at lunch and after school, burning an estimated 631,240 calories all together. Garcia keeps kids competing for more miles with small tokens they can show off and swag donated from Nike. The students are getting lessons in math too while they add up their progress.

In its second year, the BEARS walk/run club partnered with UNICEF to log their miles while they raise funds to feed poor kids half a world away in Africa and India. UNICEF provided fitness trackers and a pledge to provide food packets every time the Birney students reached another milestone in their journey toward fitness, explained Garcia. “This is a win-win. Our kids get active and feed other kids. I’m seeing smiles and changes in attitude and heart,” Garcia said.

Parents join the fitness fun

Now parents are joining the walking craze at Birney, brining younger siblings in strollers to round the track with students during recess and lunch time. And those parents are also volunteering to help coach lunch time sports. More than 160 upper grade students participate in soccer, basketball, and football with baseball camps planned for the end of the school year. “I went to the sport store with Craig (Wagoner) and we bought balls and equipment for our lunch leagues,” said Garcia.
“Our parents are loving this. Our school never had a PTA before, but now we have lots of parents participating. Birney is the place to be,” Garcia said. “Because of Community Regional, we are able to provide a very positive and fun experience for kids who need opportunities to learn about teamwork, determination, patience, character, and life in general.  Promoting fitness, literacy, and character has changed the culture of our school!” Community also helps provide books for the BEARS reading club, which encouraged members to read 13,200 books during the first eight months this school year. And top readers earned bookstore shopping trips, courtesy of Community Regional. “Only two of the 30 kids we took had ever even been to Riverpark shopping,” said Garcia.

Birney Elementary students Emily Ramirez and Leanna Martinez wear surgical “bunny suits” to enter the sterile operating room.Eyes opened to hospital careers

This past fall, Birney fifth and sixth graders toured Community Regional to learn about all the different possibilities for careers in a hospital. Students donned kid-sized scrubs for the day and took turns in the hospital’s huge kitchen prepping lunches, tried out the daVinci surgical robot, learned about sonography on mannequins and got a look at jobs in the laboratory.
“Our kids were so bug-eyed to meet chefs and surgeons and phlebotomists,” Robert Garcia, Birney’s campus culture director said about a recent field trip to the hospital. “Their horizons were opened to the possibilities in life.”
In March, Fresno Compact honored Community Regional as one of this year’s 10 outstanding businesses that have contributed both time and resources to local schools to help students reach their full potential. The Fresno Compact, formed in 1990 by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and local businesses, acts as a clearinghouse to connect schools and businesses to equip young people with the educational skills needed to succeed in work.

Craig Wagoner, CEO of Community Medical Centers’ facilities, poses with some of the Birney Elementary students who participated in a hospital tour this past fall.

Craig Wagoner, CEO of Community Medical Centers’ facilities, poses with some of the Birney Elementary students who participated in a hospital tour this past fall.

Erin Kennedy reported this story. Reach her at CMCnews@communitymedical.com.