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BCIL Summer Course #2: Global Health and Trip to Panama
by Shirley Blake, Director of Communications

For the first time during our Summer at Brentwood program, the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership presented several interesting course offerings for students across the divisions. In this installment of a series showcasing these courses, we take a look at the Global Health course—a three-week elective credit course for Upper School students, which included two weeks of on-campus instruction and workshop-based curriculum focusing on major global health issues and important skillsets for addressing them, and a one-week trip to work on site in Panama. This one-week field component included clinical deployments with Floating Doctors, living and working with an international medical team to achieve health outcomes for an indigenous population that has been severely marginalized. Students had the opportunity to sit in on age-appropriate consults, assist in veterinary procedures, participate in health education activities, and interact with health professionals from around the world. Sponsored by the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership, this course aligns with its mission to prepare community members to engage with real world challenges and explore solutions within and beyond the classroom.

Drew Park, Upper School Service Learning Director, history teacher, and instructor for the summer Global Health course, shares his reflections from this impactful experience...

This summer course was designed to provide students with a lens into issues that are currently occurring in Global Health, and to give them amazing first-hand opportunities to see the differences in how health is provided between the U.S. and Panama. Dr. Ben LaBrot, the founder of Floating Doctors and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medical Education at the USC Keck School of Medicine, and I created opportunities for our students to think critically about the challenges facing modern healthcare. 

For instance, students observed the eldercare facility at the V.A. and compared it to a similar facility in Panama, learning about the benefits and challenges of each. In the end, students engaged in an activity that asked them to try to think outside the box and find innovative solutions to improve the lives of the residents based on research and first-person interviews with residents in both areas. The ideas they came up with were really interesting and had lots of potential!

Additionally, students were tasked with presenting basic hygiene techniques to young children in Panama. They had to figure out how to make it accessible to large age groups, as well as how they would overcome the language barrier (although some students used their Spanish skills while on the trip.) As they were preparing, students practiced their presentations to kindergarteners at Summer at Brentwood camp, allowing them to take risks, make mistakes, and correct them.

In one of our closing activities, we held a mini-council where students were able to share highlights and challenges from the trip, as well as one thing that they wanted to take away from the experience. The depth and earnestness of their answers, and their willingness to sit in silence and listen to each other, was extremely impressive. [View an image gallery from the trip here.] 

Honestly, the class surpassed my own expectations. I was hopeful that students would be able to gain something from the experience, but I did not anticipate how much the 3-week class would impact them. Two students have already started a “Global Health Club” on campus, to raise awareness and help fund Floating Doctors. In addition, multiple students were clamoring for a “Global Health 2.0” class, where they could stay engaged with the complex global health issues facing our world for an even longer period of time. I was extremely moved by their passion and look forward to seeing where it will take them.

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