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Camps help Delta youth pursue medical careers
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A series of career camps with the goal of motivating middle school students to become future Delta medical professionals is raising interest from youth, parents and educators in the region.
The camps are part of Delta Futures, a cooperative project between the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Delta Health Alliance. The alliance, founded in 2001, addresses issues surrounding the shortage of medical facilities and personnel in the region.
“Planning and organizing these camps is a good challenge for us because we want to understand how children respond to our presentation,” said Delta Futures coordinator Margaret Cotton. “We train camp staff by putting them through as many different exercises as we can to get a good ‘read' on the best approach.”
The 18 counties that comprise the Mississippi Delta historically have lagged behind other regions of the state in economic and educational development. This continuing disparity has contributed to the area's crisis in health care.
Cotton said Extension developed Delta Futures as a pipeline into rural communities to create opportunity and secure a work force familiar with the region's problems. Reaching youth is the key to keeping current on the situation, she added.
“The critical time to influence children's career decisions is during middle school,” said Bonnie Carew, Extension Rural Health program leader. “We want to reach these children and show that opportunities exist for them in the Delta.”
Applications for the first camp, held in late spring at Oxford's Camp Lake Stephens, greatly outnumbered the 85 slots available for sixth- and seventh-graders.
“I learned how I can make good decisions about what I want to do with my life,” said Antigone Irvin, a student now starting seventh grade at O'Bannon High School in Greenville. “I'm glad that I went.”
This revelation and similar comments from other campers piqued the interest of students who did not have the grades to qualify, said Lynette Stafford, O'Bannon's career-development teacher.
“Many children ask me what they can do to be considered next year,” Stafford said. “I emphasize that they have to make classroom assignments a priority and work really hard to pull their grades up.”
Schools participating in Delta Futures are located in Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, DeSoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington and Yazoo counties.
Project staff originally looked for a camp site in the Delta but could not find an available facility, said Delta Futures program associate Sharon Polk, who is in charge of logistics and recruitment activities. Polk identified Camp Lake Stephens in Oxford as a suitable choice.
“We all worked together to find a setting that would provide a good experience for the children,” she said.
The students toured Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford to view the various work environments of medical professionals on staff. They also participated in two community education projects: distributing diabetes prevention information at Kroger and handing out anti-tobacco materials to shoppers at Wal-Mart.
“The children had fun creating an anti-smoking banner and then asking people going into Wal-Mart to sign the banner and pledge not to smoke,” said Rachel McCoy, school nurse at O'Bannon and a camp chaperone.
Students also received practical advice from several camp counselors about the rigors of college studies. The counselors were students at MSU majoring in health care or health care-related fields.
“The children wanted to stay up and talk about what they learned that day,” said MSU pre-med major Rasheda Boddie of Meridian, who plans to enter medical school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. “They were really excited about the future.”
The next camps are scheduled for Nov. 16-17 and April 4-5 at Holmes County State Park in Durant. Application packets will be mailed Aug. 31 to Delta schools and county Extension offices.
“If an opportunity to explore a medical career had been available to me when I was their age, I would have had my life goal mapped out,” said Reva Lewis of Natchez, an MSU clinical exercise physiology major planning to attend nursing school at Vanderbilt University or the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “This is a chance for these children to have a better future.”
For more information on the camps, contact Cotton at (662) 325-6792.
Contact: Margaret Cotton, (662) 325-6792