Students at Yes! Prep Southeast Elementary School participate in a health program directed by two UTHealth Medical School students.
Students at Yes! Prep Southeast Elementary School participate in a health program directed by two UTHealth Medical School students.

Gardening and interpreting food labels is not a part of the medical school curriculum. But for two UTHealth Medical School students, these types of real-life lessons are just what they are learning and teaching as Albert Schweitzer fellows.

Alexandra Iacob and An La, both fourth-year students, were selected as 2013-14 fellows with the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Houston-Galveston Program.

Launched in 2008, the Houston-Galveston Schweitzer Fellows Program is a collaboration of area academic institutions and non-profit service agencies. Hosted at Baylor College of Medicine, it is one of 13 Schweitzer program sites across the United States dedicated to developing a pipeline of emerging professionals who enter the workforce with the skills and commitment necessary to address unmet health needs.

Iacob and La’s project works with students in the Yes! Prep Southeast Elementary School. The Yes! School System exists to increase the number of low-income Houstonians who graduate from a four-year college.

“The student population that we are working with has higher incidences of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity,” La explained. “On top of these dire health issues, most of them live in a food desert with little access to grocery stores. We are providing health education focused on implementing and integrating these lessons in their own lives so they can have control over their own health perspectives.”

The UTHealth Medical School students have been working this semester with 8th and 10th graders in their health course, providing education on topics such as Snacking, How to Interpret Food Labels, Gardening, and Exercising.

“The students have been very receptive of our lessons and are very interactive in our classes,” Iacob added.

With many students admitting to a poor diet heavy in chips, ice cream, and sodas Iacob and La wanted to focus on how to improve nutrition.

“We knew that they had little direct access to raw vegetables and fruits, so we adjusted accordingly,” Iacob said “Each class picked something to plant and grow, and now we have a little over 130 individual pots with little seedlings that were recently planted in the school’s garden.”

-Darla Brown, Office of Communications, Medical School