CDC reps visit Newton High School pioneer program

COVINGTON -- Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Education visited Newton High School for much of the day Friday to see a national pioneer program.

Newton High School is the first and only public school in the country to offer an epidemiology class, which teacher Evern Williams began last year.

"Newton High School has played an important role in developing epidemiology in schools," said Dr Ralph Cordell of the CDC.

Epidemiology is the scientific study of patterns and causes of disease in human populations the use of information to prevent and control diseases.

Karen Seals from the California Department of Education also visited the school Friday to learn from the students and staff about the program to bring it back to her state.

"We're watching," she said. "What you're doing here is cutting edge."

Williams began teaching in the Newton County School System in 2006 at Veterans Memorial Middle School and transferred to Newton High in 2009. The next year, he began developing an epidemiology framework for public education and was recognized in 2011 at the Science Ambassadors Ceremony by the CDC for his significant leadership as a pioneer promoting epidemiology and public health science to high school students. Over the summer, he spoke at the CDC's science ambassadors graduation ceremony.

"We're trying to make this thing work," he said during a special presentation Friday.

Students said that in the class, they learn not only about infectious diseases, but they also study issues like homicide and rape.

Two seniors in the class, Imari Daniels and Mi'Kayla Scott, have developed a program for middle schoolers, called Conscious of Health, Attitude, Reality and Manner, or CHARM, to raise awareness of public health concerns and help them develop positive relationships.

"(The program) makes us aware of everything -- not just about health, but about the dangers of the world," Scott said.

Cordell said there is a workforce shortage in the field of public health, especially for physicians and nurses, epidemiologists, health educators and administrators, so now is an appropriate time for Newton High to introduce the program. He encouraged students to gain even more knowledge from working or volunteering at local hospitals, clinics or health departments or with services like the Red Cross and the CDC.

He said that beginning salaries range from about $30,000 to $100,000 annually, and disciplines include biology, business, computer science, education, engineering, law, nursing and sociology, among other areas.

"I saw the passion you have for public health," said Esther Shisoka of the CDC to students.

Visitors also toured Newton High classrooms, met with students and staff and got to hear and see student presentations during their time.

"Our students are actively living up to the challenge of piloting this course. The course promotes rigor, relevance and relationships," said school Principal Craig Lockhart. "I am proud of the work of Mr. Evern Williams and his students for sharing their passion for public health with the community."