A paintbrush may not be the tool that immediately springs to mind when implementing long-term strategies to mitigate climate change and enhance human health.
But paintbrushes and other supplies are central to Shannon Bird’s education program that uses art to get children and youth interested in what they can do to build a healthy planet.
“Art is an accessible, socially inclusive way of communicating information about climate and health to kids,” says the Brock University Master of Public Health (MPH) student. “They should be a part of this conversation because they have a lot of important things to say and equally valuable lived experience.”
For her efforts, Bird was recently awarded the National Collaborating Centres for Public Health Knowledge Translation Graduate Student Award.
Professor of Health Sciences Brent Faught, Director of Brock’s MPH program, says the award, which is “incredibly difficult to receive,” is typically given to a PhD student.
“This recognition speaks to the quality of Shannon’s MPH education and her ability to translate public health knowledge,” he says.
Bird’s program, “Art as a Tool for Promoting Public and Environmental Health: A Lesson Plan for Ecojustice Educators,” can be tailored for students in Grades 1 through 12.
The art lesson consists of three parts. It opens with a discussion on connections between the environment and human health. Topics include how biodiversity, climate, and soil and air quality impact the supply of nutritious foods and clean water and air needed to sustain human health.
The lesson then goes into how diverse artists portray challenges to the environment — particularly those caused by climate change — through murals, photographs, paintings and other forms. The instructor explains how art has made a difference in people’s perceptions of the environment and health.
The final part of the lesson involves students creating their own piece of art that “reflects what they think a sustainable and responsible future would be, which is really exciting to see,” says Bird.
The art forms include not only paintings but also pastel drawings, collages and sketches as well as songs, dances and skit performances, depending on the ages, interests and abilities of the students involved.
Bird says art is a powerful tool for knowledge translation, which involves explaining complicated concepts and technical terms in ways that non-specialist, general audiences can understand.
The project’s goal, she says, is to “encourage future generations to engage in public health and ecojustice action.”
Bird created the program through her Independent Study Project course supervised by Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Valerie Michaelson and arranged by Izabella Ludwa, Graduate Studies Program Co-ordinator in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.
Bird is wrapping up her practicum with the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, which has enabled her to present her lesson in different communities across the region. She has also had the opportunity to share her lesson with Gould Lake Outdoor Centre in Sydenham.
After she graduates this October, Bird says she plans to work in the public health field and will be reaching out to school boards to implement her lesson in classrooms.
Hosted by the School of Nursing at McMaster University, the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (NCCMT) is one of the six National Collaborating Centres for Public Health that provides resources, real-world training and practical mentorship to encourage and scale up evidence-informed decision-making in health-care organizations across the country.