Earlier this month, Isabel Perea Martinez was named the new School Wellness and Improvement Manager at One City Schools, where she will lead the operations for the school’s on-site COVID (RT-LAMP) testing program while developing a plan for student’s overall health.
“My role will be to develop, direct and supervise wellness initiatives, policies, and health programs in the school that include, but are not limited to, working closely with administrators and teachers to create and implement health base curriculums like nutrition and mindfulness,” she told Madison365. “I especially [want to] create an opportunity for people of color and to develop different health initiatives.”
Perea Martinez plans to collaborate with One City’s social worker, Latisha White, to continue developing a culture of health and wellness in the school, not only among the children but also staff and families. She will also continue developing partnerships with agencies and organizations to collaborate with One City in terms of mental health and mindfulness during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are working together with the University of Wisconsin to do a [COVID-19] spit test within our building. Right now, we’re doing it twice a week,” she said.
Currently, One City is the only public school that is open in the area. Perea Martinez said One City is working on getting results to students back the same day. She said a lot of children are thrilled at the opportunity to spit within a tube for the test.
“We read about how they’re using rapid tests in other countries to reduce the risks in other schools and it was really great to be able to bring this to the school and try it,” Perea Martinez said.
Before her promotion, Perea Martinez served as a member of One City’s operations team where she helped write their school health and safety policies, guidelines and protocols, and guided the development of the new One City website. Now, she’s involved with several projects dealing with students’ emotional and physical well-being.
Born and raised in Colombia, Perea Martinez graduated as a biologist with a major in genetics from the University of Valle in Cali, Colombia in 2004. She found an interest in health even before relocating to Miami to work in a lab.
“I think that all wellness and health are intertwined so I was always interested even when I was a biologist in Colombia,” Perea Martinez said. “I volunteered a lot in Colombia working with communities on health, prevention, and nutrition.”
After relocating to Madison, Perea Martinez completed the nursing assistant program at Madison College and worked as a nursing assistant in the Madison Metropolitan School District. In 2019, she joined One City’s staff and enrolled in the school nursing program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
She said her previous experiences have prepared her for the pandemic, especially working in sterile labs and working with malaria in Colombia. Perea Martinez said these experiences helped her understand how to implement testing procedures inside of a school. This includes knowledge of how to run a mini lab, following protocols, keeping track of supplies, how to work equipment, testing samples, and properly disposing of waste.
In addition to testing, she is working on the development of a comprehensive school wellness plan. Research shows that children prefer sweet-tasting foods and avoid bitter tastes sometimes found in some vegetables and that also at a young age they have a fear to try unknown foods.
“I had the opportunity to work in [the area of] taste that was kind of physiology but it opened my eyes to nutrition,” she said.
In Florida, she worked as a research associate and lab manager of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine for eight years where she completed their pre-medical post-baccalaureate program. Perea Martinez is attributed as the first author or co-author of five peer-reviewed research publications in molecular biology and genetics.
“Although genetics plays an important role in the different taste receptors that finally affect our food selection and nutrition, we can definitely help them to increase healthy food choices when we start offering repeatedly different choices at a very early age,” she said.
She found herself particularly interested in the development of early childhood taste buds and nutrition. Perea Martinez explained that One City works with families to expose children to different options both at home and in school.
“In our preschool, around two years ago we started offering a variety of healthy meals that were nutritionally age-appropriate made from scratch by our chef Melinda and we also try to get our families involved in learning quick, inexpensive menus to provide healthy meals at home similar to the ones provided at school,” she said.
One City’s new Wellness and Improvement Manager will also focus on mental health as well. Perea Martinez said School Nurse Maggie Felker brought forth the idea of creating partnerships with organizations like Anesis Family Therapy to provide mental health resources to families accounting for cultural and racial differences.
“Most of our families don’t seek help from health providers,” she said. “We’re trying to find different alternatives and people within our community that understand all the different issues in health and health problems, and stressors our communities live with.”