The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has announced the selection of 496 high school seniors as semifinalists for the Cooke College Scholarship Program. Southside High School senior Elijah Owens was selected as a semifinalist.

This highly selective scholarship provides exceptionally talented students who have financial need with up to $40,000 annually for four years of college, to enable them to attend a top-performing college or university.

The semifinalists were chosen from a pool of 5,860 applicants and represent 428 different high schools. Every year around 60 students are chosen for the scholarship. The 2021 Cooke College Scholarship recipients will be announced in April.

“These semifinalists embody determination and resilience as they navigate finishing high school during one of the most difficult and unprecedented times in American history,” said executive director Seppy Basili. “In the midst of these challenging times, we remain deeply committed to ensuring that students have the opportunity to access education and reach their fullest potential. I am honored to recognize these students for their hard work and achievements.”

Students applied from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

Cooke College Scholars are selected based on exceptional academic ability and achievement, financial need, persistence and leadership. Students must be current high school seniors residing in the United States. Scholarships are awarded without respect to religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, geographic region, race or ethnicity.

ACHE, FSPS partner on anti-vaping campaign

The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) and Fort Smith Public Schools are partnering in a campaign designed to educate fifth-grade students on the health hazards of vaping and e-cigarette use.

Vaping behavior among middle and high school students has been increasing nationally at alarming rates. The spike in e-cigarette use among youth has been called an “epidemic” and “public health crisis” by the U.S. Surgeon General. As of 2019, 27.5% of high school and 10.5% of middle school students vape (source: 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey).

Barry Owen, EdD, director of institutional relations for ACHE stated, “The school district reached out to ACHE in an attempt to mitigate this trend. ACHE is responding by introducing a highly touted anti-vaping campaign called CATCH My Breath. Our intention is to present this program to fifth graders in an effort to stop the vaping behavior before it begins.”

According to the CATCH My Breath website, CATCH collaborated with researchers at Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health to create CATCH My Breath, a youth e-cigarette, JUUL, and vape prevention program specific to grades 5 through 12. The evidence-based program was shown to substantially reduce students’ likelihood of vaping in the year following program implementation. Students also showed a significant increase in knowledge of the dangers of vaping and an increase in positive perceptions about choosing a vape-free lifestyle.

Shanell Gray and Riley Taubert, fourth-year medical students from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) participated in a training program to become certified trainers in the CATCH My Breath program. Plans are underway for these students to train Fort Smith Public School elementary health and wellness teachers in a pilot program designed to target fifth-graders at six elementary campuses in Fort Smith.

Elizabeth McClain, Ph.D., chief wellness officer stated, “By listening to the community and working together, we can promote health and wellness, using evidence-based approaches. CATCH My Breath programming is a great example of this partnership. This public health curriculum supports the Whole Child Model endorsed by the Arkansas Division of Primary and Secondary Education School Health Program. Our partnership with the school district aligns with our ACHE mission and introduces effective public health educational programs to enhance community health literacy and health behaviors.

Dr. Mary Ann Johns, FSPS director of elementary education said, “We believe that one of the best ways to teach a community is to empower its children. We are grateful to the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine for piloting this curriculum and sharing this very important information with students in Fort Smith Public Schools. This instruction will give children the skills they need to make healthy choices.”

Fifth-grade students at the six schools will have the opportunity to complete a pre-test survey designed to gauge their knowledge of vaping and e-cigarette usage. Students at three of the schools will then be presented the anti-vaping curriculum. Later in the semester, students at all six schools will take a post-test. The goals of the project will be to determine if the curriculum was effective in shaping student knowledge about vaping and e-cigarette usage for the three elementary schools. The three schools that received the anti-vaping curriculum will also be compared with the three schools that did not receive the curriculum to compare the two groups’ knowledge about vaping and e-cigarette usage.

Research on program effectiveness will be completed and reported to the district at the conclusion of the pilot. In the fall of 2021, all Fort Smith elementary schools will be introduced to the program curriculum.

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