LEAF launches first-of-its-kind Environmental Justice STEM 3D Virtual Reality Education to support children suffering from environmental, health and economic – triple bottom line—injustices in disenfranchised brownfield communities.
February 2022: LEAF, in collaboration with East End NRZ Market and Cafe, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization located in the Port Community of East End Bridgeport, CT will help stem environmental racism and disproportionate health impacts that impair learning among children suffering triple bottom line injustices. LEAF is overseeing the development of a first-of-its-kind Environmental Justice (EJ) STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) 3D Virtual Reality (VR) education content. LEAF selected the Port Community of East End Bridgeport, CT as it ranks the lowest in Connecticut along many measures of community well-being, including, its high density of brownfields sites, high unemployment (17%), high poverty (26%), low life expectancy (76 years), severe housing cost burden (33%) and low median household income ($36K).
This unique STEM 3D Virtual Reality (VR) content will be used to assist community interventions that will educate groups of children on environmental justice issues, including but not limited to Brownfields to Healthfields (B2H), while simultaneously screening for vision problems that disenfranchise children from effective learning.
Brownfields to Healthfields (B2H) Community led, multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary approach that transforms contaminated sites in overburdened and underserved communities (e.g., communities living along freight corridors in coastal and inland ports) into end uses that increase access to health care, healthy foods, jobs, education, recreation, green infrastructure, and other essential services thereby strengthening resiliency and sustainability. In the early 1990s, LEAF co-created B2H in Florida by authoring and securing adoption of state legislation creating a Community Environmental Health Protection Program within the Florida Department of Health and securing funding for free health clinics in communities of color and low wealth.
This program will assist many children living within this port brownfield community who struggle with hidden vision challenges and suffer precluded or limited academic, extracurricular, and social successors that contribute to reduced learning, emotional or mental health concerns, school drop-out and juvenile crime. (1)
“Our Healthy Lifestyle programs provide residents with access to healthy foods, job opportunities, and a local gathering place to build neighborhood cohesion. This project will allow us to focus on injustices to disenfranchised children in need, uniquely supporting their health and educational development.” Deborah Sims, East End NRZ Market and Café
3D/VR approaches to learning can serve as a fulcrum for enhanced EJ teaching and assurance of school readiness
A decade ago, it was realized that teaching young children (grades 3 through grade 8) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic (STEM) subjects, using immersive 3D/VR, allowed improved “recognition memory” of visual objects with spatial information and visual literacy to achieve improved understanding and retention of complex concepts. Importantly, recognition memory leads to improved executive functions of high-level thinking and decision making in all areas. (2)(3)
Nearly all tasks a child is asked to perform in the classroom depend on good visual skills. (4) The visual and cognitive demands of viewing 3D/VR, allow the identification of visual related learning impediments (i.e., binocular vision challenges and refractive errors) among children that would otherwise go undetected.
Once children are identified as having difficulty cognitively viewing LEAF tailored 3D/VR STEM EJ education, they will be diagnosed and treated in an optometry clinical setting to promote healthy vision and the acquisition of 3D/VR STEM EJ learning, while concurrently supporting traditional lifelong learning. (5) Children going forward in the program will enhance their learning potential for environmental justice issues, gain access to needed health services, and position themselves for high earning STEM related occupations. (6) Overlooked vision difficulties will be identified that may adversely affect school performance and social behavior. Resultant social behavior problems associated with vision problems are often misunderstood as an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and or the need for an individualized education plan (IEP). (7)
These LEAF/East End NRZ Market& Café actions will not only create new individual opportunities but also help to reduce behavioral mental health stressors (undetected vision problems) while simultaneously assisting high school matriculation, health access and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
“This innovative new prototype has the potential to transform education for underserved children by reinventing vision screening, therefore reducing misidentification of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or the need for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), when the actual learning problem is the need for glasses or other treatments to the visual system.” Dr. AiMee’ Morant, Principal-in-Residence, Founding Assistant Principal KIPP Texas Public Schools- KIPP Journey Primary, Education Consultant to LEAF
“This project is designed to meet a silent pain, borne by individual children who struggle to learn and succeed in school and in life. Lower productivity, limited work force options, failing to function at full capabilities, and behavioral challenges can be turned around, through facilitated STEM EJ teaching in an immersive 3D/VR environment.” Dr. Michael R. Dueñas, LEAF Chief Public Health Officer
“LEAF is committed to people and place, and to do all that is necessary to support children and families who are burdened with poverty, pollution, disease and violence.” Richard L. Ottinger, Dean Emeritus Pace Law School, LEAF Chairman
(3) 3D in the Classroom See Well Learn Well: A Public Health Report”
(4) The Science of Reading Begins with Vision
(7) DeCarlo DK, ADHD and Vision Problems in the National Survey of Children's Health. Optom Vis Sci. 2016 May;93(5):459-65
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