School of medicine students to deliver ‘COVID SOS’ to K-12s

Meridian Health school's future doctors will be providing needed guidance on the coronavirus pandemic to schools, parents and children in low-income communities
By: | October 20, 2020
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Underserved students, schools and communities in northern New Jersey soon will be getting expert advice on COVID-19 courtesy of a unique initiative being launched by the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University.

As part of their Human Dimension Course, medical students will be taking part in a philanthropic and educational effort called “COVID SOS (Support our Schools)” that will allow them to help deliver critical resources to K-12 schools … and gain powerful hands-on learning experiences.

Support Our Schools is part of the overall program “Reopening America: Hackensack Meridian Health’s Assist Program”, that began in June and will now be a bridge to help schools open safely. Students essentially will be tasked with developing materials and guidance and helping schools forge safe reopening strategies.

“The Human Dimension program allows our medical students to provide benefits to the individuals, families, and communities with whom they are partnering,” said Bonita Stanton, founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “Even during a pandemic, learning must go on. By helping school districts get their classes up and running, our medical students are also learning valuable lessons themselves.”

How the program works

Hackensack’s three-year Human Dimension program trains up future doctors on the “social determinants of health, such as housing, food access and other standard-of-life factors.” Those students work in teams and then are matched with families within various communities. In so doing, the students serve underprivileged adults and children and also form a bond with them. That connection helps ensure better outcomes for students on both sides, as well as schools. Its vision: “that each person, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, receives the highest levels of wellness in an economically and behaviorally sustainable fashion.”

The HMSM says nearly 150 families and 80 community have taken part in its program throughout the state. The goal of Hackensack Meridian’s the current effort is to foster safe environments for schools and students during the pandemic. It will do that through outreach, including a hotline, weekly newsletter, site visits, and policy reviews and endorsement.

Here’s how the structure of the program works:

  • Each schools gets a task force of eight medical students who have oversight from a faculty physician from Support Our Schools
  • Those students are trained in the latest in COVID-19 research and developments
  • The task force then talks with school leaders each month
  • Districts also will have access to the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine Faculty COVID Advisory Board, which will host weekly Q&A sessions and offer scientific updates and is available to connect via photo.

“Our goal has always been to partner with communities and provide help wherever it is needed,” said Carmela Rocchetti, M.D., director of the Human Dimension. “This is a vital way we can help the most vulnerable in these uncertain times. Restarting local education effectively and safely in these communities is crucial to recovery efforts.”

Young students, parents and K-12 district leaders are getting some of the best guidance they can get, especially in areas where there has been very little help before. Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine won the NOVA Award from the American Hospital Association this past summer for its Human Dimension program. It is part of the Hackensack Meridian Health networks, which features 17 hospitals as well as 500 patient care locations.


Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for District Administration. He can be reached at cburt@lrp.com