KBC plays critical role in community’s health

Editor’s Note: MAPP,  Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.  

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s school shopping begins and road trips to college start getting organized, families prepare for big transitions. 

It may just be the leap from kindergarten to first grade, or maybe off to college far away, but families everywhere feel the impact. The health of our families is the top measure of our community health.

There are lots of ways to judge the health of a community, and it isn’t all physical and mental health. So this week I spoke with MAPP Steering Committee member Carol Swartz of the Kachemak Bay Campus to get her perspective on community health through the lens of education.

It doesn’t take more than five seconds of conversation to see how dedicated Carol is to this subject of education. As director of the campus here, she is in charge of orchestrating the 800 or so students a semester who participate in online and in-person classes, about 30 GED graduates a year, and around 120 workshops and classes offered each semester. There are seven degrees such as business or history that you can work toward at this campus, nine or so two-year degrees such as nursing, and 50-75 workshops for job training and personal enrichment.

So how does such a busy campus contribute to the health of our families? We need to look at the factors that make families more resilient in the face of hardship. Are they adaptive to change? Do they have a stable footing? Do they have the support they need to make it through tough times? How do we measure that?

Carol is a firm believer that by measuring enrollment we get an indicator of community health. There are three ways that education can contribute to family resiliency.

First of all there is the aspect of adaptability. If the main breadwinner in a household loses his or her job, how adaptable is that person to get another one before the whole family is thrown into chaos? As Carol pointed out, you can be in great physical health, but if you don’t have any skills it will be more difficult to attain any kind of economic health.  

When the economy goes down, it is common to see college enrollment go up as people apply to get new skills and new job training so they can get new or better jobs. The campus is the resource in our community that allows people to have the adaptability needed for what their life demands.

But this brings up the question that if enrollment goes up when the economy goes down, then wouldn’t increased enrollment show that our overall community health is down? Not necessarily. Hard times are inevitable. What is important is how stable you can be in the face of those hard times.

Stability is the second aspect our local campus contributes.

Economic stress is a very real aspect of family and community health, and since tuition costs are often carried by many members of the family, this affects everyone.  Carol believes that is one of the reasons that the local campus has seen more enrollment in the last three to five years of students who graduate from our local high school. Keeping the costs down by living at home and knocking out basic classes before declaring a major or moving on to another campus can help a student, and their family, maintain a stable financial footing. 

The third aspect that the campus contributes to family health goes beyond the education offered. It’s about relationships. While studying here at their local campus, students continue to use the networks of friends, neighbors and family that are familiar to them for support. This kind of support goes beyond the financial and quietly strengthens the family in ways that are hard to measure.

Other important relationships form between the professors and between the students. Just as research has shown that the resiliency of youth can be measured by whether or not they feel comfortable seeking help from at least one adult other than their parent, students succeed better when they feel comfortable seeking help from their professors and peers.

So it would seem that Carol is right when she says community health improves when you have an increase in enrollment. More adaptable, stable and connected families will simply be more resilient. That is the stable foundation that can keep someone going even if other parts of their life are difficult.

So as we head into August and the start of school looms ahead, think of all the opportunities it provides.  All education at all levels rewards us with the gifts of adaptability and resilience whether it is through the information learned or the relationships developed. 

And all that simply adds up to better community health.

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.

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