Spotlight on... Sarah Nickels, CDPHE School Health Specialist
This month we want to take the time to spotlight the great work of Sarah Nickels, School Health Specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), who has done a great job leading efforts to support the implementation of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Read on to find out more about Sarah, and how you can get involved with the great work she is doing.
Briefly describe your background and how you got to your current position as School Health Specialist at CDPHE.
As a social worker, I am fortunate to have worked in a variety of roles in public health, education, health care and nonprofit organizations. The common thread that has guided my career has been my passion for promoting positive youth development, social justice and health equity. In 2011, I joined the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to implement a multi-state project designed to improve the quality of care in school-based health centers. While in that role, I completed my doctorate in social work with a goal of helping people understand and use data to improve social and health outcomes. In November, 2014, I became the School Health Specialist, a perfect opportunity to put my social work, public health and research skills to work!
What are the biggest advances the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has made over the past few years?
Recent changes to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey have tremendously increased its value to schools, districts, community partners and state agencies. In 2011, the departments of Public Health and Environment, Education and Human Services came together to develop one unified adolescent health survey to reduce the burden on schools, create a more efficient data collection system, and support schools and communities to put the results into action. Thanks to this unified approach, the 2013 survey made some important advances, including:
- A much larger sample size (from 1,500 previously to 40,000 in 2013), producing results representative at the state, regional, school and district levels.
- For the first time, aggregate survey results could be reported by racial/ethnic group and sexual orientation, which highlighted significant health disparities among youth of color and lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.
- A greater emphasis on protective factors such as youth-adult connectedness, school engagement and others known to be associated with healthy behaviors.
- The 2013 reflected the input and guidance of an Advisory Committee comprised of nearly 40 key partners from education, public health, health care and community-based organizations. The Advisory Committee has strengthened the content, process and value of the survey!
What goals do you have for the survey moving forward?
- Continue to strengthen relationships with partners across the state to ensure the survey collects the information we need to improve health outcomes for youth in our state.
- Increase parent and youth engagement in the survey effort through participation in the Advisory Committee to provide input on survey content/design and help partners interpret and use the results.
- Help our partners translate the results into action to help ensure that all students, no matter what their background, have positive health and education outcomes so they can reach their full potential.
While the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey largely involves schools and districts in the implementation, how can community-based organizations and other health advocates be involved in this work?
Community-based organizations and other health advocates have a very important role to play in the HKCS. Many participate on the HKCS Advisory Committee and provide invaluable input on survey content and design. In addition to participating on the Advisory Committee, here are some other ways you can get involved in the survey:
- Use survey results to identify needs and strengths in your communities and help advocate for resources, programs and policies to address them.
- Share survey results with your community through community events, e-newsletters, action alerts, social media, published reports and other communication channels.
- Talk to people in your school, district and community about the value of the survey and let them know how you use the results in your work.
- Share your ideas, questions, and data needs with me so we can continue to improve the HKCS in the future!