On April 8, students at St. Michael School in Newark heeded the smoke alarm’s warning and climbed down the fire escape.
No, the school wasn’t on fire. The students were simply exploring the Newark Fire Department’s fire-prevention trailer, which is set up to look like a small house. Inside the “house,” students learned about different scenarios that could cause fires and what they should do should those situations occur.
The fire-prevention trailer was set up in the St. Michael’s parking lot as part of the school’s second-annual health fair. More than 50 agencies, organizations and vendors set up booths at the health fair, which was open to members of the Newark community as well as St. Michael’s students, their parents and family members.
“We just wanted to give the kids a different opportunity as far as learning about health care,” said Jill Harper, school nurse.
Representatives from the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, local doctor’s and dentist’s offices, and health-care facilities manned tables at the fair. Many fair-goers took advantage of the free blood-pressure and cholesterol screenings, massages and Reiki treatments offered, Harper said.
The Newark Police Department offered free identification cards and fingerprinting for children in an effort to promote safety, and the Newark Wayne Community Hospital taught kids about their hearts and showed them electrocardiogram strips, she added.
About half of the school’s students attended the fair, even though it was held on a Saturday morning instead on of a school day, she said. Last year the health fair was held on a Friday afternoon, but organizers this year chose a time they thought would be more convenient for members of the community who weren’t connected with the school.
The health fair is as much for the community as it is for the students, explained Hugh Spink, physical education and health teacher at St. Michael’s. Spink and Harper planned the fair, in part, as a way to give back to the community, which is always supportive of the school’s fundraisers and other endeavors, Harper said.
“So many times the community is so generous with us. We just wanted to give back to them,” she said.
“I didn’t want it to be anything costly. I didn’t want the community to come up with any money for us, because they always give to the school and are always very generous. I didn’t want to make any money off (the fair),” Spink added.
Thus, admission to the health fair was free, although participants were asked to bring canned goods for donation to a local food pantry. Last year, school officials collected more than 400 pounds of food this way, Spink said. Last year’s fair included a free ziti dinner, but this year organizers invited Dinosaur Bar-B-Q to set up shop at the school and sell lunches.
“It wasn’t that we wanted to make any money from that,” Spink said. “Our goal there was to bring as many outsiders in as we could.”
The school made a small profit from each of the 150-175 meals sold, which helped cover the costs of hosting the fair, Harper said.
The event was a success and drew the attendance of nearly 400 people, Spink said. Although planning and hosting the fair entails a lot of hard work, the end result is always worth it, he noted.
“We get raves about how well organized it is,” he said. “It’s getting larger and larger each year. My plan is to expand it even more next year.”
Students reap a variety of benefits from the health fair, said Christine Barrett, mother of two St. Michael’s students. For example, students who watch adults participating in blood-pressure and cholesterol screenings will learn that such screenings are nothing to fear, she said.
“I think it’s a very informative thing for them to do. They learn a lot about what’s going on in the community and they learn a lot about safety issues, too,” she said.
The kids also usually enjoy the fair because they walk away with bags full of free notepads, pens, magnets, pins, whistles and other trinkets from the vendors and health agencies, Barrett said..
“It’s something tangible for them to take home that they can feel good about,” Spink said.