In February 2023, the Naturally Well team from the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) went back to school with a visit to the EJE Academies Charter School (EJEA) in El Cajon, CA. The East San Diego school prepares students from diverse populations for higher education and for community leadership. Kimberly Lord Stewart, director of Naturally Well, and I visited the award-winning school to learn more about how our two organizations could collaborate on improving the health of the community through naturopathic medicine and childhood nutritional education.
The school is a model of dual language and community support for students from kindergarten through grade 8. More than 40 percent of the students enter as English Language Learner students and 67 percent of EJEA students will be the first to graduate from college. The school has numerous awards to its name, including the Hart Vision Charter School of the Year, California Department of Education Gold Ribbon Award School, California Sale of Excellence School for Bilingual Education, and America’s Best Urban School Award.
The community rallied behind the school when a series of decisions were made to eliminate the school’s bilingual education program and close a school that served predominantly low-income Latino students. These decisions would have relocated Spanish-speaking students to other overcrowded and low-performing schools.
During our visit, we were impressed by a series of murals on the outside classroom walls that documented the efforts of hundreds of parents, educators and community members to stop the closure. Even with the fierce support from the local community, the school district upheld its decision to close. The EJE community members decided to create their own school to provide a quality bilingual education and better serve low-income students. The EJE Elementary Academy opened its doors in Fall 2005 as the first independent, 90-10 dual-language (Spanish-English) school in the county. Four years later, they successfully opened the Middle School to form EJE Academies Charter School. The school moved to a recently closed elementary school to accommodate our growing number of students.
EJE Academies Charter School is not only unique because of its history and social justice work, it also has a connection to naturopathic medicine. The school is home to a naturopathic clinic that is supported by Bastyr University, San Diego. Naturopathic faculty and student residents provide naturopathic medical support to the students and adults in the community. The clinic is overseen by naturopathic doctor, Cyndi Hope, who is the associate dean of academics and clinical education for Bastyr University’s San Diego Campus. Dr. Hope is known for helping the Spanish-speaking community feel welcome and supported as they learn about the health benefits of naturopathic medicine.
Today, the school is preparing to undergo a major transformation to build a new campus and a wellness center. The new buildings will include new classrooms, a daycare center for working parents and a wellness center. The Pave the Way campaign is well on its way to raising the funds necessary for the expansion. If you want to learn more, visit www.ejeacademies.org.
The Naturally Well program from INM supports schools like the EJE Academies Charter School by offering culinary nutrition classes to elementary age school children. Studies show experiential healthy cooking classes help children make better lifelong food choices. Naturally Well is a hands-on culinary-nutrition curriculum video model led by a naturopathic doctor and developed by experienced Food-As-Medicine health professionals. It provides a comprehensive curriculum for classes of any size so onsite facilitators can easily introduce nutrition lessons and cooking skills through STEAM (science-technology engineering, art and math) learning. The videos, pre-planned learning concepts and activities, recipes, onsite-teaching curriculum, and Smartphone gaming platform facilitate and enhance hands-on learning programs for children at community and recreation centers, after-school programs and schools. Hybrid learning is easily repeatable and can be led by a facilitator without a nutritionist present, making the program more accessible and scalable for many communities.
If you know of a community or school that would like to initiate a Naturally Well learning program, contact Kimberly Lord Stewart, email@example.com. Learn more about Naturally Well at https://naturemed.org/community-resources/naturally-well/.
Eje Academies Charter School, 851 S. Johnson Ave., El Cajon, CA 92020, www.ejeacademies.org.
Pave the Way Campaign, https://pavetheway4eje.org/.
Naturally Well, https://naturemed.org/community-resources/naturally-well/.
Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine
In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies. Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research. Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009. Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.