MPH graduate Jill Matlock was drawn to public health because she enjoyed the community and all-encompassing aspect of the field and wanted to play a part in the prevention of disease, rather than treating it after the fact. She comes from a clinical exercise physiology background, specifically in pediatric weight management. She realized after holding this position for many years that she wanted to address the underlying cause for childhood obesity and work towards preventing it.

Discovering her path

Jill’s MPH concentration was Physical Activity and Healthy Lifestyles and she did her practicum and capstone project with the Active Schools Institute at the University of Northern Colorado. She worked extensively with a number of school districts and their wellness coordinators across northern Colorado, and it was during her practicum, which she completed in the summer of 2018, that she became interested in pursuing a career in school district wellness coordination.

She now works as the district wellness coordinator for the Morgan County School District in Fort Morgan, CO. She is on the front line of changing school wellness programs in Colorado and is working to implement a grant from The Colorado Health Foundation, which was written by the district administration and awarded last year. Through this grant funding, Jill is working to implement wellness initiatives such as before and after school walking clubs, mindfulness and stress management training for staff and students, employee wellness activities, and encouraging student physical activity.

“I would love to see the school wellness culture flourish and become standard practice for all school districts in Colorado and across the country. Colorado is working diligently at accomplishing that, and I’m excited to be a part of it” she said.

Lessons learned inspires goals for the future

Jill is enjoying the hands-on work she’s doing and continues to involve her community in her projects. Community engagement is something she specifically focuses on, which was one of the big takeaways she got from her Health Promotion Programming course at CSU.

“One of our big goals is to expand from school wellness to community wellness. For example, one of the most common requests from teachers is that they want more physical activity opportunities for their students, so we are currently working on getting Mileage Clubs into each building. Students either run or walk, their distance gets recorded and they get rewarded for hitting their mileage goals. While these clubs are meant for students, we are encouraging all staff and parents to participate to hopefully maximize student participation” she said.

Jill sees her schools as a pillar of Fort Morgan’s small rural community and hopes to host wellness nights in the future to welcome the community into the classroom to learn about the wellness resources available to not only the kids, but also to their parents. She says one of the biggest lessons she’s learned in this process is to keep an open mind.

“We are there to help the people we are working for, and you can have the best ideas in the world, but if your community doesn’t like them, you’d better be willing listen and adapt accordingly,” she explained. Ultimately, Jill wants the public to know that public health practitioners are willing and here to help, and she plans to advocate that in her Fort Morgan community.

Written by Megan Jansson