How I Learn By Doing

STRIDEs Toward Health

By Jessica Bierlich

Photo by Jean Paul Molyneux

Jessie Bierlich, an aspiring teacher, coordinates the Health Ambassadors outreach program for the Cal Poly Center for Solutions Through Research In Diet and Exercise (STRIDE). In this program, Cal Poly students collaborate to develop and implement sustainable educational programs promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors among diverse communities, including elementary school children and Cal Poly students. Bierlich is currently pursuing a master’s degree in agriculture with a specialization in nutrition.

Middle school is a weird time. At that age, you’re not quite a kid, and you’re not quite an adult. You’re at this strange, funky stage in your life where you’re trying to develop your own independence.

I think that makes it the most effective age you can reach for health nutrition. In my work with STRIDE, I offer these kids fundamentals of nutrition that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

We try to make it fun for these students. At Mesa Middle School here in San Luis Obispo County, we teach a 40-minute class every week that focuses on a different topic each time — proteins, carbohydrates, fats. But we don’t just talk to them. We take them into the kitchen and walk them through a recipe that connects with the concept from start to finish. I think it helps them use what they’ve learned, because they learn it in a hands-on way.

When you’re working to promote health to younger students, it’s amazing to see what’s possible. You give a kid broccoli in their house and they won’t want to eat it. But when you engage them in a different environment and get their friends involved, it’s a different story. We host a Veggie of the Month tasting at one local elementary school, and there are no leftovers.

But it’s not just the younger kids who are getting the benefit of the work we do with STRIDE. I know that I’ve personally grown as an individual. I’ve learned to communicate and network, to plan and run an event, and to engage with my community. I’ve learned what happens when things don’t go as planned and when you have to improvise. I know those are all lessons I’m going to take with me in my career.

It’s cool to see how every member of my team has become a completely different person than they were when they started. Everyone collaborates, developing new skills and growing as we see each other’s perspectives. And we’ve all become more vocal about advocating for health and wellness in our communities.

But the most exciting thing is seeing the kids who come through our programs. Seeing elementary and middle school kids get excited about nutrition, try new things, and even take what they’ve learned home to their families — that melts my heart.

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