Catching up with HealthCorps University

Posted 11/25/2013 | By HealthCorps

Karen Buonocore, Vice President of Education, is heading up the HealthCorps University (HCU) model and implementation.

As a past Associate Director for the Healthy Schools program at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, she has brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to this new HealthCorps program.  The following interview highlights additional information about Ms. Buonocore, the vision for HCU, and curriculum components of HCU.

What brought you to HealthCorps?

I have previously worked at several non-profit organizations whose focus was better health for the younger generation.   I am a mom too, and coupled with my extensive professional experience at Alliance for a Healthier Generation, it seemed a natural fit to join the HealthCorps executive team.  I quickly realized the position would allow me to innovate and shape the next generation of young people, using my professional and educational background  and my own experience as a mother.

What is HealthCorps’ University (HCU)?  

HealthCorps University (HCU) is a train-the-trainer program that empowers schools and organizations to implement innovative health and wellness advocacy curriculum.

HealthCorps University provides engaging materials and training that supports staff members to increase wellness awareness in their communities. HCU materials are rooted in HealthCorps’ core content areas of Nutrition, Fitness and Mental Resilience. By aligning to National Health Education Standards, the HealthCorps curriculum creates a strong foundation for HCU trainees to turnkey skills and concepts to their communities. HCU can be implemented by any school or organization that aspires to encourage the preservation of wellness for them and for those around them.

How Does HCU Work?

HCU enables others to achieve wellness through classroom education, staff engagement, community outreach, wellness councils, and other creative programming.  This program is currently being piloted.

Are there any early indications of the success of the program?

Here are some direct quotes from individuals who have already experienced HCU.

In school districts…..

“HealthCorps University gives our students a baseline of very important lifelong skills and knowledge about healthy living.” – Rick Wanlin, Head Teacher, Rosemont Academy for Sports, Careers, and Wellness, Rosemont High School.          

In out of school time….

HCU brought Camp Pennbrook to the next level by introducing their excellent curriculum to our campers. Through their lessons our campers learned valuable tools and information in order to live a healthy lifestyle and continue their weight loss journey at home” – Andrea Figueroa, Associate Director, Camp Pennbrook

In community organizations….

“HCU trains our staff to fully comprehend what it means to be ‘healthy and well’, and equips them with the tools to tailor our services to best serve each individual supporting healthy outcomes.” – Anil Pandya, Director, Health Services, DACCO

Why did HealthCorps decide to create this separate curriculum?

There is not a specific separate curriculum for HCU.  One of the most exciting aspects of HCU is that is utilizes the same curriculum as our in-schools program.  Over the past year school year (2012-2013) we devoted a great deal of resources to revising our curriculum – the core of all of our programming.

HCU really represents the main initiatives of HealthCorps “in-school curriculum,” but it allows for expansion beyond the school model.  And, the delivery mode is a “train the trainer” format, with these educators then taking the information and core lessons back to the community.

How have you been directly involved in the development of HCU?

I came into HealthCorps in April 2012 with passion to help bring HealthCorps University – which was just in its conceptual phase – to life.  Although I have been intimately involved in the development of HCU, it’s been a true team effort across our entire HC family.  A number of individuals have played an integral role in, and continue to be involved, in the creation and success of HCU.

Is there a particular model or template for HCU?  How is it being developed? When is the anticipated date for its launch, or will it launch in phases?

In spring of 2013, we had the great fortune of being awarded the opportunity to participate in the Morgan Stanley Strategy Challenge, wherein a team of elite Morgan Stanley employees worked with us to analyze the viability of our HCU plan.

We are currently laying out our HCU strategic plan which includes our HC mission, vision and goals for HCU, Morgan Stanley’s recommendations, and the lessons we’ve learned – and continue to learn -through our HCU pilot sites.

Do you think this curriculum will resonate in schools that may not be eligible to host a HealthCorps coordinator?

I absolutely believe the delivery of our curriculum through HCU will resonate in schools that do not have a HealthCorps Coordinator.  The training, coaching and resources provided in HCU aims to foster successful implementation & sustainability.

Where is HCU currently being tested?

We currently have four HCU pilot sites:

*   Rosemont High School, Sacramento, CA:  After participating in HCU training last November 2012, the Rosemont HS team were inspired to design a plan to create an Academy in their HS focused on sport & health.   That plan came to fruition this school year as Rosemont launched their first ever Academy of Sports, Careers and Wellness that has the HealthCorps Curriculum as the centerpiece.  Seventy five freshmen are enrolled.

*   Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida Drug Abuse Community Coordinating Office (DACCO):  We trained twenty five Prevention Specialists through HCU to expand their resources beyond substance abuse and HIV, to whole wellness.  Prevention specialists work with HIV patients, families & at-risk youth primarily.

*   West New York School District, West New York, NJ:  HCU was written into a USDA Farm-to-School Planning Grant WNY SD received, which has HCU working in a consultative role with the district, to assist in the creation of a cross-subject area farm-to-school curriculum.  WNY team wrote HCU into a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant .  Grant approval is anticipated in the next few months.

*   Camp Pennbrook, Pennington, NJ:  We brought HCU to Camp Pennbrook , an all girls camp serving girls ages 9-23, in Summer 2013.  We worked with the girls to bring in a whole wellness education component to their already strong weight management program.  A camp HCU staff person was on site delivering the program designed by the HCU/Camp team.

How do you think HCU will impact current rates of teen obesity in the US?

The focus of HCU is to provide schools, communities, families and people across the nation, access to learning experiences designed to build skills in leading a long, healthy life.  I believe HCU is vital to HealthCorps achieving its mission of shaping a new generation of healthy, young people.

It is in a sense a “pay it forward” model, and it’s also meant to work in conjunction with other organizations in the health and wellness sectors, to ultimately impact rates of obesity and overall health in youth across the nation..

Can HCU ultimately replace a coordinator-driven HealthCorps curriculum?

The in-schools Coordinator program is at the heart of all of our programming, especially that of HCU.  It is through the in-schools/Living Labs program that we acquire best practices, strategies and lessons learned to inform HCU’s success.

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