Providence Day students learn about global health innovation

Students at Providence Day School spent five days learning about different countries, challenges to global health and the many systems of care during Global Week from April 1 to 5. Karie Simmons/SCW photo

CHARLOTTE – While the rest of us were suffering from seasonal allergies last week, there was an outbreak of SpiritPox at Providence Day School. The virus wreaked havoc on the private school’s campus, causing infected students to be overcome with Chargers school spirit. Other symptoms included itchy ears, inability to say the word “the” and switching of non-dominant hand while not in class.

The cure? A “Global Week” Band-Aid.

Students made a full recovery, of course, because SpiritPox was a simulated exercise designed to teach them about disease transmission, treatment and avoidance. It was organized by Providence Day parent Dr. Lisa Davidson and Dr. Katie Passaretti, of the Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Prevention for Atrium Health, as part of the school’s biennial Global Week from April 1 to 5.

This year’s theme was global health innovation.

Sue Laguna-Whang, assistant to global education at Providence Day, said the goal was to teach students about innovations in global health, get them excited about the diverse fields impacting global health and empower them to explore their ability to make a difference, no matter their preferred discipline.

“You can take the route of a doctor or engineer, but there are so many ways to help the world,” she said.

Each day, students were introduced to different sub-themes such as the history of global health, challenges to global health, systems of care, current smart tech and the future of medicine.

They listened to Jason Hewlett – speaker, entertainer, author, impressionist and corporate events headliner – who addressed them with a message of “why not?” He encouraged students to understand their own innate gifts and ask probing questions that may lead to positive change. Dr. Robert Malkin from Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering also stopped by to talk about the Pratt Pouch – a system designed by his students to deliver HIV medication to infants in isolated or rural communities.

On April 3, the Chargers campus came alive with different avenues of care. Students toured Atrium Health’s Lung B.A.S.E.S 4Life mobile lung cancer unit, which has a portable, full-body, 32-slice computed tomography scanner inside. It delivers high-quality images of both soft tissue and bone through low-dose CT technology.

There was also a pop-up medical clinic based on ones organized by healthcare company Epione in Soweto, South Africa, and telemedicine simulations where students chose from different symptoms to have a simulated video consultation with real medical personnel.

The week finished up with Charlotte Radiology’s on-site mammography screenings for the over-40 community of women at Providence Day (faculty, staff, parents and alumni) as well as a Global Health & Innovation Tech Fair featuring different types of businesses, innovations and initiatives.

100 Gardens showcased a unique take on urban farming. The company creates aquaponics greenhouse labs for STEM-based learning that also feed the community.

Executive Director Sam Fleming explained that aquaponics is the integration of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soil-less plant production). It produces fish and plants together in a constructed, re-circulating ecosystem, utilizing natural bacterial cycles to convert fish wastes to plant nutrients.

Labs serve as hands-on teaching tools that expose students to urban farming, nutrition and healthy eating habits. There are a handful of schools in the area with aquaponics labs, including Myers Park High School, Garinger High and Hickory Grove Christian School.

“The nitrogen cycle means nothing when you’re in biology class, but here, it’s life or death for your fish,” Flemming said.

The technology of aquaponics can be implemented nearly everywhere. Flemming said 100 Gardens built an aquaponics training center in Haiti that runs completely on solar energy and St. Vincent’s School for the Handicapped in Port au Prince, Haiti, also has a small system of their own.

“This is a global issue, the skills are transferable and the technology is global,” he said.

The tech fair featured approximately 25 groups, including Better Brain & Body Center, Hatchers Just Breathe (Russian martial arts and self-defense), Levine Cancer Institute, Nrityangan Cultural Academy, Davidson College and Atrium Health, whose table seemed to draw a lot of student interest.

Not only did Atrium have “glow germs” – an invisible substance seen only under UV light to show how quickly germs can spread from a handshake – they also let students try on personal protective equipment used for surgery, and HAZMAT suits designed specifically for highly-infectious diseases like Ebola.

Global Week’s signature event was a cultural maze highlighting the 72 different countries represented in the Providence Day community. Students weaved through the exhibit looking at the clothing, food and artifacts on display from countries like Hungary, Jamaica, Russia, Germany, Thailand, Asia, The Philippines, India and sub-Saharan Africa.

Nunu Zebane brought handmade dresses and bread from her home country of Ethiopia. Her daughter, Bethel Negussie, is a second-grader at Providence Day.

“The world has become very small,” Zebane said. “I hope [the students] see other cultures, so they respect their own and respect others. I hope they learned at least one thing from each table.”

Students seemed interested in Zebane’s country and asked her a lot of questions. The younger kids gravitated toward the drum on her table and were in awe of the colorful dresses. They also liked a poster explaining the Ethiopian alphabet, she said.

“This has been great. Just the exposure is important,” Zebane said. “We need to motivate and encourage the kids to get involved because whether we like it or not, the world is interconnected.”

Providence Day senior Nolan Fauchier said Global Week has been exciting for the entire student body.

“From the moment kids step off the bus or out of their parents’ cars, there’s music blasting,” he said. “You kind of know that something is going on here.”

Out of all the activities, Fauchier said he enjoyed the medical simulations the most and felt grateful for the experience.

“If you go to a hospital, they don’t let you walk around and touch everything and learn,” he said. “I’ve seen different perspectives on health displayed around the world. I don’t know another school where you can get that.”

Want to learn more?

Providence Day School is an independent, college preparatory school for grades K-12 located at 5800 Sardis Road. Call 704-887-6000 or visit for more information.