A Conversation with McMillen Health,
Operation Round Up Grantee
McMillen Health is a nonprofit with a mission to bring health education to the classrooms of Indiana. As the number one resource for health education in Northern Indiana, McMillen reaches over 90,000 students each year with vital, practical, and interactive education regarding student health and wellness. The topics of their programs range from emotional health to oral practices to proper hygiene. McMillen Health also develops low-literacy health education to reach every student they can.
An essential part of McMillen’s outreach is the support from the communities they strive to serve. Kosciusko REMC awarded McMillen Health a 2021-2022 Operation Round Up grant in support of their educational programs in Kosciusko County. Learn more about Operation Round Up, and discover McMillen’s heart for Northern Indiana in this conversation with Executive Director Nicole Fairchild.
KREMC Interviewer: Your Operation Round Up grant went to support health education programs for preschool through twelfth-grade classrooms. Can you tell me more about these programs?
Nicole Fairchild: Essentially, we allow the teachers to tell us the need that they’re seeing. Any of our preventive health education programs designed for youth align with Indiana National Academic Standards, but we allow the teachers to choose what program fits best for their students.
Sometimes it’s oral health education in preschool. Another thing we’re seeing is a huge need for social and emotional health education. Kids are coming into classrooms, and they have no anger management. They don’t know how to take a deep breath and count to five, so our program teaches the kids basic coping techniques. We use a technique called “pizza breathing,” where you take a deep breath like you’re smelling a piece of pizza and then slowly breathe out. In another program, we’re teaching about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate to share online, and how to stay safe. In other programs, we talk about human trafficking, safe practices, and dating violence.
COVID has run rampant with all the emotions from everyone, being isolated, and then being back in the classroom. It’s been a hard transition, and not just for the kiddos. Teachers are having to readjust how they’re teaching and learn how to present it in a way that keeps students engaged, helps them learn, and maintains a digital component.
KREMC Interviewer: What specific needs did the Operation Round Up funds help fill?
NF: For our 2022 funding from Operation Round Up, we were able to provide 5 sessions. One of them went to nutrition, and the others went toward social and emotional health. We were looking at social and emotional health, digital resources, and identifying your emotions and taming them.
We are beyond grateful for the funding we’ve received from Kosciusko REMC because it’s allowed us to fill the gaps where we don’t have enough funding. Often, health education is not in a school’s budget. But if students don’t know how to get sleep or the right nutrition or manage their anger, how are they supposed to learn anything else? We’re thankful for the opportunities to give this education to the Kosciusko County schools, but that need continues to grow.
KREMC Interviewer: What is the community’s response to these programs?
NF: As soon as a session is over, teachers provide us with feedback to tell us what was most engaging for the kids, what kept them involved, and where could we improve. Most of the time, we hear, “Thank you so much for coming in. This is something that I’m not equipped to provide education on,” or, “It’s good to hear this education from another perspective.”
Parents are concerned about what education their kids are receiving. Allowing parents to reach out to us and have our programs in a pre-recorded format where parents can see the education prior to their child receiving it, it’s a relief to parents. When we were doing a virtual format and parents were listening to our sessions while we were providing them, we would get emails and calls from parents saying we did a phenomenal job with the kids’ questions. We hear, “You’re a vital piece of our community, and we’re so thankful to have this resource because we know, as parents, we can’t always afford your education.”
Kosciusko County is one of the areas where we provide cafés. Our cafés are where we go out and prompt kids with keywords or key phrases. The table hosts start these dialogues with the kiddos. We start a conversation with something like, “What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘leader’?” Then we get into the nitty gritty of topics like leadership, and we dive deeper and deeper. They really dig deep with each other. Our table hosts are the ones facilitating it, and it’s usually a group of six to ten kids in a room. They’re participating on these microlevels, and then sharing at the end what they learned about each other and how they’re not alone in what they’re feeling.
What we hear from the kids at the end of these cafés is that they learn they have value. They never knew they had value before this.
One teacher emailed us yesterday saying that a student wanted to know specifically what one of our cafés is called. We responded by asking why, and the teacher said that the student was putting the café on her college application as the most life-changing event or program that she ever participated in during high school.
KREMC Interviewer: Beyond Operation Round Up, what is the best way for members of our community to support McMillen Health?
NF: Any time we get feedback or hear positive things, we can include it in reports and share it with other teachers. Oftentimes, teachers are moving around and may never have experienced us, so being able to share the good things that we’re doing and how we’re benefitting the kiddos of Kosciusko County is phenomenal.
We have a program committee that meets twice a year, and we would love to have representation from Kosciusko County. It’s a time for the community members to talk about what issues they’re seeing, and if we don’t have a program on it, that’s how we develop them. We develop new programs based on the community needs that we’re hearing at those two meetings. We meet virtually on the third Wednesday in November and the third Wednesday in May.
KREMC Interviewer: What’s coming up next for McMillen Health?
NF: We’re going to start our oral health assembly. We have a real tooth fairy, a six-foot-tall Roger the Red Robot, and actors that go out to schools for Preschool to 2nd grade and put on a thirty-minute play. It’s about a little boy named James who asks the Tooth Fairy to take all his teeth so he can buy a Roger the Red Robot, and he realizes how important his teeth are. We’re going back on the road! We’re pushing it out like crazy here locally because we’re going to travel within 150 miles. We have 20 shows to do in person and 20 to do virtually.