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MVHS teacher gives hooding ceremony address
MVHS teacher Kristen Provencher delivers a speech at the UNE Master’s of Public Health hooding ceremony.
RUMFORD -- Kristen Provencher teaches health at Mountain Valley High School. Over the last two years, she has also been a student earning her Master’s degree in Public Health at University of New England. Recently, she addressed her classmates at their hooding ceremony.
Provencher began, “I was asked to give a student’s perspective of the Public Health program at UNE. Of course, we all have different perspectives, as this is an online program, and most of us are meeting each other for the first time today, but I am honored to be able to share my story with you. The reason that this is such a proud moment for me is because going through this program at this point in my life was one of the most challenging experiences I have been through, second only to my husband’s deployment to Afghanistan. I have a full-time job teaching high school health, I’m a mother, (so two full time jobs!) and I coach lacrosse in the spring. Time management was not an option for me; it was a necessity in order to be successful. With the support of my husband and parents, I was able to keep up and balance everything I needed to do. So I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your unwavering support.”
After doing her research, Provencher selected her program for an important reason.
She said, “Earning an advanced degree is becoming increasingly important in many occupations, and teaching is no exception. The most common degree earned in my profession, of course, is a Masters in Education. I briefly considered going that route, but after a quick google search and the realization that I could get my Masters degree by taking only health classes, I was sold.”
Provencher’s journey in health began 10 years ago while she was at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), majoring in early childhood education. With the help of a mentor, she saw a different path.
She explained, “All freshmen at UMF were required to take a physical education class, and because I was a varsity athlete, I had to take what was called Varsity Lab. The director of the fitness center, Kawika Thompson, ran the class and I quickly idolized and looked up to him as a mentor. I loved the atmosphere of the fitness center and the fact that everyone there wanted to be healthy. When he told me he wanted me to fill out an application for the gym, I was ecstatic. I mean, what college kid doesn’t want to work at the gym? The fact that he wanted me to be a part of his facility made me feel like he saw something in me that I did not see.”
Fast forward to last year when an email that planted the seed of a trip to Ghana in West Africa for a health mission.
“My first thought was, that would be awesome,” said Provencher. “However, I did not immediately think I wanted to go. The thought of leaving my then two-year-old son, Cash, for ten days held me back from further considering the trip, at first. I then started thinking about the opportunity more and more and the fact that Cash would be very well taken care of in my absence. When I finally made the decision to apply with the support and reassurance that Cash would be fine, I was so excited. As the trip got closer we talked about Ghana a lot and pointed it out on a globe to our son. How many two year olds know where Ghana is? Mine did!”
Once in Ghana, Provencher was pleased by the reception. “The initial reaction from the Ghanaians was mixed. The children loved us, some adults were eager to talk with us, and some were understandably wary of these obvious foreigners. Overall, we were very well received and we built on an already existing relationship between UNE and the natives.”
The UNE group set up health clinics in the city of Sekondi as well as more remote rural area. The group consisted of 20 people including students in physical therapy, physician’s assistant, social work, nursing and public health. Two nurse practitioners and a licensed physical therapist accompanied the party. They treated everything from open wounds to chronic disease like diabetes and high blood pressure.
In addition to practicing what she learned in health classes, Provencher learned about communication that cuts through language and cultural barriers.
She recalled, “It was at one of these villages that I learned that laughter is truly a universal language. I was handing out crayons and coloring book pages to children when I felt a little hand on the back of my leg. When I turned around I was delighted to see a beautiful two-year-old little girl. She, however, was not so delighted to see me. I’m willing to bet that I was the first white person she had ever seen, and she was terrified. Her face completely changed and she quickly ran away to find her mom. When I looked around to see if there were any witnesses, I found about 15 women who were waiting in line to be seen laughing hysterically. I joined in and we shared a moment that I will not soon forget.”
At the end of the day while the providers were seeing the last few patients, a physical therapy student and Provencher noticed two boys playing soccer across the street. “We asked if we could join in and kicked the ball around for a good half hour. We used flip flops set a few feet apart as goals and our entire “field” was about a 15x15 patch of dirt. We had a blast. Sports and laughter, two of my favorite things, made me realize that although we live thousands of miles away from each other and lead very different lives, we are human, and we can relate to each other.”
As a teacher, Provencher enjoyed a visit to a girls’ school and was treated to music. “Their song articulated the importance of education, particularly for females, and they sang it with great pride. I’ll share a line with you that gave me goose bumps. It sounds better in song, but you don’t want me to do that. It went, ‘If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.’ I do not think I’ll ever forget that line.”
Provencher concluded her address with a look to the future for her, her family and her students.
She said, “Whenever I tell someone that I am getting my Masters in Public Health, the question that follows is always, ‘What are you going to do with it?’ I think what they are asking is, what type of job am I going to look for once I have earned the degree. The answer is that I’m not looking for a new job, that’s not why I entered this program. That question has been asked of me so many times, though, that I have started to think about it on a deeper level. What am I going to do with it? I am going to continue helping my students learn about the most important subject in their lives: health. I am going to use my knowledge to lead a healthy life and be a role model for my family and community. And lastly, I am going to raise my son to believe that health is a priority, it is a human right, and that as a population we are only as strong as the weakest members of our society.”