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Austin Peay's MPH students partner with community to offer health resources

APSU's Master of Public Health (MPH) program presents on nutrition at Burt Elementary School.
APSU's Master of Public Health (MPH) program presents on nutrition at Burt Elementary.

(Posted on Thursday, May 4, 2023)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program teamed up with Clarksville Parks & Recreation and Burt Elementary School on April 27 to combat food insecurity, provide health screenings and more at the city’s latest Hub event – hosted as part of Burt Elementary’s Family Day.

The program brought more than a dozen government and service organizations together to share resources with attendees, and MPH faculty and students worked closely with community partners for nearly a year to make it possible.

“We’re incorporating a lot of service learning into the newly revised MPH curriculum,” said Dr. Kadi Bliss, professor and MPH program director. “Students wrote grants to buy all the things people are seeing tonight from Austin Peay. They did all the program planning, and they’ve been reaching out to different organizations and meeting with Parks & Rec and Burt Elementary on a regular basis.”

Booths at the event offered services from nutrition assistance and legal aid to health screenings and speech language therapy. Children also enjoyed participating in Zumba fitness sessions and cooking demonstrations.

“This is something that the National Parks and Recreation Association spearheaded in other cities, and it’s something that we’ve seen to be successful,” said Michelle Austin, deputy director of Clarksville Parks & Recreation. “We kicked it off last year to give it a try and see how the community responded, and then Austin Peay’s Department of Health and Human Performance reached out to us about wanting to integrate the Hub into their curriculum.”

Madison Childers, a graduate student majoring in health and human performance (HHP), said it was rewarding to see the event come together after the time she and her classmates spent planning it.

“We’re doing our booth on food and nutrition education, so there’s a lot of information on how to portion your plate to get the right vegetables, fruits and proteins, and what food security and insecurity mean,” she said. “That’s important in any community because access to food can be limited, especially some healthier foods. Finding different ways to encourage kids to choose healthier foods when they have that option is very impactful.”

Clarksville Parks & Recreation recently conducted a survey that identified food access as a major issue within the community, so Austin Peay’s students made sure to emphasize it with recipes, food bags and several presentations.

“My group was talking to kids about how important breakfast is,” said Ben Fryer, a junior health and human performance (HHP) major. “What happens if you get into your car and there’s no gas? You can’t go anywhere, and that’s how it is with breakfast. If you don’t start your day with breakfast, you don’t have the energy to do what you’re supposed to do … you’ll end up stuck.”

Lab screenings at the Hub.
APSU's Department of Health and Human Performance conducts lab screenings at Burt Elementary. 

Bliss said there were approximately 47 HHP students involved with the event – and while many were focused on nutrition, Austin Peay also offered health and fitness screenings, lab services and speech language testing.

“There are a lot of lower income families in this area, so we’re trying to help them with learning how to cook healthier food and make sure they get the health screenings they need,” said Phillip Burkhart, the physical education teacher at Burt Elementary School. “[The country has] an obesity problem, even at a young age. We’re here to help, and we thought the health fair would be a good idea.”

Other organizations that participated in the most recent event included: the Montgomery County Health Department; CMCSS Nutrition Program; Clarksville Neighborhood and Community Services; the Legal Aid Society; Family and Children’s Services; the Department of Human Services; Clarksville Comprehensive Treatment Center; Montgomery County Child Support; Centerstone; the Center for Family Development – Healthy Families of Clarksville; Manna Café; Let’s Meet at the Well Network, LLC; First Presbyterian “Seasons;” Cleaning Hands For You; and Get Covered Tennessee.

Austin said the city’s goal is to continue hosting Hub events quarterly, and Austin Peay plans to remain a major partner.

“We love being able to collaborate with the community,” Bliss said. “And with the school system, we really enjoy these relationships because that’s how we prepare our students to work in our communities … we hope they get connected to the resources they need, that they get excited about healthy lifestyles and that we can all get excited about Austin Peay.”