Let’s be honest – if you asked the average adult to name their favorite class from high school, “Health” probably wouldn’t claim the prize. And yet a well-taught health class can be of enormous help in guiding young adults toward choices and habits that are – well, healthy. This year, Rutgers Prep health teachers Scott Gill and Carole Zboray set out to enhance their students’ experience by staging the first-ever Upper School Wellness Fair.
Gill and Zboray worked with 46 eleventh graders to put on a series of displays and exhibits for their ninth grade classmates. Their idea began at a workshop organized by the Buck Institute for Education, which specializes in promoting project-based learning (or PBL). PBL is designed to promote student involvement and independence, and mandates that students create work that will be useful in the real world, shared with an audience beyond the immediate classroom.
Each group of two or three health students put together a booth for the fair, focusing on one of the topics they’d been exploring in class. They created a tri-fold cardboard poster, a carry-away pamphlet, and a 60-second public service announcement about their topic.
Several Rutgers Prep alumni with careers in the health field advised and inspired the students. Dr. Nidhi Kumar ’95 helped introduce the project. Megan Urban ’02 and Megan Groner ’14 provided background information and feedback on the students’ ideas. Mark Nastus, director of technology, assisted the groups with their videos, while the school’s marketing team offered tips on how to present information both attractively and meaningfully.
On December 19, the exhibits were set up in the Lower Gym, and the fair began. Each ninth grader had to visit at least eight booths. They could choose from some 16 topics, among them “Self Esteem,” “Bullying and Cyber-Bullying,” “The Dangers of Smoking and Vaping,” “Anxiety,” “Emotional Resilience,” and “The Importance of Sleep.” Some groups found creative ways to attract an audience, using flashcards, food, and even virtual reality experiences using the school’s VR equipment. The exhibitors interacted with their audience, introducing their topics and answering questions. After presenting on the health risks of vaping, Nikhith Nookala’s group quizzed their listeners to see how much they’d learned (they rewarded correct answers with donuts, which present far milder health risks). Each display also promoted online and community resources to help those who might be affected by these issues in their own lives.
The fair was a clear success. Gill observed that many ninth graders found time to visit far more than the eight required exhibits, showing that they enjoyed learning about the various topics. He also noted that the older students rose to the occasion: “seeing the eleventh graders excited about the topic and bringing it to the ninth graders was really meaningful.” Zboray remarked that “seeing the students’ improvement in public speaking and presentation was very rewarding.”
Their students agree: “We learned a lot about working together and doing proper research,” says junior Jay Patel. His classmate Charmaine Murray agrees: “It was a great way to make the freshmen aware of issues that they or their friends could be dealing with. It allowed them to learn about prevalent issues with their peers instead of a typical classroom lecture.” Nookala adds that the event “has the potential to become an RPS tradition.”
He’s absolutely right. Planning is already underway on next year’s wellness fair, which will feature more topics and involve more participants. “Much like our students,” says Zboray, “we are constantly learning, revising, and improving our craft. This project is one that we have learned a lot from.” Everyone who took part in the fair can agree with that.