The Dakota County Board of Commissioners presented the 2021 Public Health Achievement Awards to three recipients Tuesday, April 6 in celebration of National Public Health Week.
The winners are Bianca Virnig, who works for Metro Educational Cooperative Service Unit; Deerwood Elementary School's Virtual Safe Place; and all Dakota County youth for rising to the occasion during a difficult year.
Virnig, an Eagan resident, is a regional support coordinator on the Dakota County Public Health consultation team. Since August 2020, she has helped schools provide a safe learning environment for students and staff as they responded to COVID-19. She has helped school members better understand COVID-19 guidance for contact tracing, personal protective equipment and building safety. She has given consistent information to school health staff, which has reduced confusion during a time of many changes within schools. Moving out of the pandemic is difficult, but with individuals like Virnig involved, the transition is easier and safer for all.
Deerwood Elementary staff have supported students coping with mental health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools switched to full-time online education last spring, Deerwood Elementary social worker Abby Chmiel created a virtual social work office to help students cope with stress and anxiety. Her virtual office includes a virtual safe place that provides students access to breathing techniques and coping skills to help them while distance learning. The safe place is a five-step process that teaches students how to use calming techniques. The model was replicated by other Deerwood Elementary staff, allowing more students to benefit. This creative tool has made students feel calm, excited, empowered and ready to learn.
All Dakota County youth were awarded for rising to the occasion during a difficult year. Youth have experienced lockdowns, distance and remote learning, and the challenge of staying active and connected while spending extra time at home with their families. Youth have also learned to keep each other safe and healthy by wearing masks and social distancing in the community and in the classroom.
The county board established the Public Health Achievement Awards in 2000 to recognize and honor the contributions of residents who devote their time, energy and talents to creating a healthy future for their fellow county residents.