Coordinator of the Month: Kristen Rulifson
Name: Kristen Rulifson
Hometown: Auburn, CA
College Attended/ Major:
Major: Neurobiology Physiology and Behavior
Minors: Spanish and Dramatic Arts
HealthCorps School Placement: Encina Preparatory, Sacramento CA
Fun Fact: I love practicing acrobatic stilt walking, aerial silks, and acroyoga.
Jeffrey Hartinger: How did you become involved with HealthCorps?
Kristen Rulifson: While in college and preparing for a future in medicine, I came to the realization that most of the patients I would be serving had preventable diseases. As I began searching for public health and preventative healthcare positions with the PeaceCorps, I happened to stumble upon HealthCorps. I liked the idea of serving my immediate community and with a background in health and coaching youth, it seemed to be a perfect fit. I was especially drawn to the three pillars of HealthCorps: nutrition, fitness, and mental resiliency. I am grateful for this position because I can use my creativity and collaborative spirit to support Encina’s mission to make a healthier campus and school culture.
JH: What has been the highlight of your placement so far?
KR: The first initiative I embarked upon was starting a dance program for the high school students. The team started out very small with only a few youth, but after just one year it has grown to over 30 students and now consists of a JV and Varsity team. The team is called iDigit with a mission rooted in “entertaining, inspiring, and activating.” The program is unique in that we combine dance, spoken word, and physical theatre to share stories.The students learn leadership and public speaking, dance techniques ranging from hip hop to West African drum and dance, to ballet and acroyoga. One student commented, “iDigit is my family- we support each other no matter who you are or what background you come from.”
The team dedicates half of the performances to the school and the other half to the community. In the past year iDigit has hosted various local artist workshops and performed for thousands of people including performances at the Sacramento Food Bank, UC Davis SAYS Summit, Crocker Art Museum Peace & Hope Reception, and Dr. Oz’s Highway to Health event. This year the students are currently working on performances for the Justice or Else Youth Benefit Concert, Celebration of Hope Banquet with A Community for Peace, and a piece for the Regional Sacramento Community Center in collaboration with local artist, Joe Kye.
JH: Outside of the classroom, what are some of the activities that you are involved with?
KR: Outside of the classroom, I enjoy leading the FARMS Leadership Program. This program is in partnership with the Center for Land Based Learning. Through FARMS, students have the opportunity to go on fieldtrips to farms, universities, and facilities to learn about the food system and the “farm to fork” movement. These students also have a community action project in which they engage their community and school with concepts they have been learning and acquiring over the course of the year. Last year, Encina students helped support our campus garden, recycling system, and built awareness by hosting a booth at the school Health Fair.
Another aspect to my position I enjoy is focusing on staff wellness. Some examples include coordinating the Annual Staff Wellness Challenge and providing a monthly Seasonal Snack that models a tasty, healthy, and yet affordable seasonal option to try at home. In addition, this year we are implementing mindfulness in the classroom. I am currently working with a group of other staff and teachers to develop a routine of mindful exercises and activities in an effort to reduce stress and optimize learning.
JH: What do you plan to pursue after your service to HealthCorps is complete?
KR: After my time with HealthCorps I will be pursuing a certification in Expressive Arts Therapy through the Tamalpa Institute. Then I hope to build a collective of artists and youth developers to create a program similar, yet more expansive, to the dance program I have established at Encina Preparatory. The program will combine artistic expression (dance, music, poetry) and outdoor adventure (rock climbing, hiking, camping) to engage students with concepts related to identity, social and environmental responsibility, and community building. I imagine this program serving transitioning foster youth 18-25 yrs.
JH: What is one thing you have learned from your placement that you will be able to carry with you as you move forward in life?
KR:I have learned that it is critical to set up an environment that is safe and encourages self expression before any learning can take place. For example, educating about nutrition is important yet ineffective until the students find value in self and a relationship between body and mind surfaces. As I have worked closely with many youth at Encina for the past year, I have learned that we all should be listening more to the youth voice. Regardless of how students are labeled as English Learners, SPED, Refugee, Homeless, Gang Affiliated, Emotionally Disturbed, etc., these students are brilliant, creative, and compassionate. We need more environments for that brilliancy to be cultivated and celebrated. I see myself building more of these expressive spaces in the future, providing that much needed support, and organizing resources that are not currently accessible to many young people.
We want to thank Kristen Rulifson for her exceptional work and congratulate her for being this month’s coordinator of the month.