In less than five years Christina Castellani has helped write and deliver health and safety materials to hundreds of students and young workers, volunteered countless hours with London’s Occupational Safety and Health Information Service (LOSH) and also visited local workplaces to learn more about their health and safety practices. Pretty impressive since Castellani is still shy of her 18th birthday.
Starting in Grade 9 at the age of 13, Castellani was part of a social justice club at John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in London. The group offered feedback on a draft of LOSH’s First Step student safety handbook. Frank Stilson, LOSH executive director, remembers, “Christina was one of the youngest students yet she had the most articulate comments.”
When LOSH was approached by the Canadian Auto Workers union to provide a student who could teach health and safety to young people at their Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Stilson said he immediately thought of Castellani. “I jumped at the opportunity,” Castellani says and set about to develop a 45-minute, interactive health and safety presentation. She was 13 years-old when she delivered the program to two groups of young people aged 13 to 18.
Stilson reports he and Castellani have jointly delivered presentations to London area co-op education teachers and says, “they always remembered Christina.” Learning from these experiences LOSH expanded their youth program and with the help of Castellani and other students initiated the Student Teaching Project (STP). The health and safety training program is developed and delivered by young workers to young workers in the London area.
This summer Castellani supervised eight other young workers, aged 15 to 23, all of whom completed Basic Certification training through the Workers Health and Safety Centre. When asked about her motivation Castellani says, “The clincher was meeting parents who’d lost a child to a workplace fatality. It really hits you. I’m a young person and it could happen to me or my friends. That’s why I decided to take action and show my peers that you can make a difference.”
Castellani admits health and safety can be boring which is why she made sure STP was fun and engaging. “I don’t think about it as presenting to young people,” she says, “so much as about having a conversation with them.”
Andrew Campbell, 17, is a STP student trainer and worked under Castellani’s supervision this summer. “She has great leadership skills and she knows a lot about health and safety. If she doesn’t know right away she’ll find the answer for you. It’s great to see how someone my age is making such a difference. But Christina’s best at getting people involved. If you’re not listening to her you feel like you’re missing out because when you look around the room everyone else is totally engrossed in what she has to say.”
Top marks won Castellani a four-year scholarship to the University of Western Ontario where she’ll study genetics and religion. For her essay on creating healthy and safe workplaces and communities she was recently awarded one of 10 Workers Centre student scholarships.
Castellani has thoughts of attending medical school, not surprising since she has come to think of health and safety she says as ‘preventative medicine.’