High School Students Learn to Save Toronto from Deadly Theoretical Virus!

July 31/2019

by Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer, DLSPH

A virus hits Toronto just as the Raptors clinch the NBA championship and crowds pour into the streets. For 11 high school students, this was the theoretical challenge. They had five days this summer to come up with a plan to avert catastrophe.

The students, from Thorncliffe Park’s Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, were part of DLSPH’s inaugural Outreach and Access Program, designed to interest high school students, particularly from under-represented communities, in studies and careers the field of public health.

“With this case study, students learned four different disciplines in public health, and use them to create the most comprehensive strategy which suits all populations across the city,” says Ryan Hinds, the program’s co-lead, who is also a former CFL player, works at Toronto Central LHIN, and is also an alumnus of the Institute of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation. “It’s a complex ask and it’s challenging but students looked forward to it.”

Hinds with the support of DLSPH faculty, chose the night Kawhi Leonard faithfully made the penalty shot which forever changed the franchise history to create the fictional outbreak of the Lebrontis-CoV virus, which killed seven people who were at Jurassic park that night died – and sickened hip-hop superstar Drake.

Students were asked to provide their strategy to combat Lebrontis-CoV in a twenty-minute presentation with questions from judges who were all DLSPH alumni, professors and seasoned public-health experts.

Grace Xiong and her team presenting their solution for the case.

“It’s not necessarily about applying complex methods and models but rather, can they develop a comprehensive strategy that takes into account all the considerations that they learned this week?” asks Hinds. “We want to shift their thinking from being something that is more cookie-cutter, to grad-level thinking.”

Students from grades nine to 11 were up for the task. Eleventh grader Grace Xiong says that she now considers public health as a potential career path.

“I wish the program was longer,” she says. “It’s been a really great experience in terms of getting a better understanding of what public health is. We were actually able to dive deeper and understand the intricacies and nuances of public health.”

The program raises awareness of non-traditional career paths in Ontario’s health system while stimulating a diverse community of future academic and community leaders who will make a positive impact on their communities’ health.

What takes DLSPH students two years to master was strategically condensed in five days. Students were exposed to many facets of public health with the help of DLSPH Profs Arjumand Siddiqi, Laura Rosella, Charlotte Lombardo, Emily Seto and Ananya Banerjee. They learned about health structures and systems, social behaviour sciences and health promotion, health informatics and epidemiology.

“It’s been empowering to find adults who care that there are students that are very passionate about certain issues. All of the things we learned are applicable to public health but more so for undergraduate and graduate school,” says Xiong.

Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute was selected for the pilot as the Thorncliffe Park borough has one of the highest public health priority needs. Should students continue within the program, they will be receiving support to attain graduate studies in public health after completing their undergraduate education. Hinds hope is to encourage more students from those areas to take on public health as they would have better understanding of the borough’s needs.

Perhaps, he says, they can even run interventions within their school.

“I would have wanted something like this when I was younger,” he says. “I wanted something like this before my Master’s. The fact that they’re being exposed to this in high school should help shift on how they approach problems and real life situations where you don’t have all the answers.”

The program is going to expand next year to other GTA schools. The program at the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute is co-led by Annette Paul, Director of Advancement, Hinds, and Dean Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown in partnership with Ahead of the Game Youth Mentoring Program and The Neighbourhood Organization in Thorncliffe Park.