Tracy Cassalia has taught countless health classes to University of Richmond students and employees during the past five years in her role as health education and wellness manager at the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness. Now she is teaching classes at a local high school as well.

“Recreation and Wellness set a departmental goal to do more community outreach in keeping with the Richmond Promise,” Cassalia said. “So I asked Adrienne Piazza at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement about needs in the community. She suggested I work with John Marshall High School.”

Piazza coordinates Pathways to a College Experience (PACE), formerly the College Mentoring Project, for the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). PACE has a particularly robust partnership with John Marshall High School, a public school in Northside Richmond.

Richmond students volunteer with PACE on a weekly basis with the aim of helping students in underserved high schools prepare for college. Sessions focus on subjects such as writing resumes and college essays, choosing a college major and minor, and applying for financial aid.

This past year, Piazza invited staff members to participate in PACE.

“I saw this as a good opportunity to connect our staff’s expertise with needs in the community,” Piazza said. “Tracy and other staff instructors ease our students’ transition to college. I thought the John Marshall students could benefit from Tracy’s classes as well.”

Cassalia taught five classes for 19 juniors enrolled in a college-preparatory course at John Marshall. Topics included stress management, nutrition and fitness, bystander-intervention training, healthy relationships, and sexual health.

She addressed issues that pose challenges to pursuing higher education; issues like abusive relationships, self-control and teen pregnancy.

For example, some teen parents attending John Marshall send their children to the community daycare center housed in the school building. Recognizing the need for sex education, Cassalia talked to students about birth control and the consequences of being sexually active at a young age.

“I focused on what was happening with them now,” Cassalia said. “They still have to think about getting through high school before they can think about college. I would like to start a program for the ninth graders to help them understand what it means to be successful in high school.

“I tell the high school students it takes a lot of hard work to get to college, but they can do it if they are willing to put in the effort.”