ROCHESTER — According to research from the American Lung Association, 6.5 million children under the age of 18 are affected by asthma, which is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism. In the Rochester City School District, around 20 percent of the 29,000 children attending district schools have been diagnosed with the disease, noted Erin Graupman, coordinator of student health services for the district.
The large number of students with asthma is why RCSD officials felt it was important for such students to participate in the American Lung Association’s Open Airways for School program, which educates children ages 8 to 11 on how to better manage their asthma. The district has had a long history with the ALA and the Open Airways program, said Graupman, noting that school nurses taught the program until recent budget cuts and changes in nursing services had district officials seeking other options. In the spring of 2017, the district teamed up with the Wegmans School of Nursing at St. John Fisher College to present the curriculum to students at two elementary schools.
“St. John Fisher (College’s Wegmans School of Nursing) was already in our schools, their students were already working with our nurses and they were very interested in the program,” Graupman explained.
“Fisher has a strong belief in community service and a strong connection to our community, and the Wegmans School of Nursing has that same desire,” Dr. Caroline Critchlow, assistant dean of the nursing school, added of the school’s interest in the program.
Open Airways is a six-week program that is both hands-on and informative, Critchlow explained, and is delivered by second-semester nursing students as part of their pediatric and community health clinical rotations. During the program, each RCSD participant receives an asthma spacer — a device used to help administer medication — and is taught how to properly use it. The student nurses, under the guidance of a clinical instructor, work with small groups of students, providing such basic asthma information as how to identify and control triggers and symptoms, as well as how to manage asthma in school. Each student also takes home a packet of information to share with his or her parents or guardians.
“It is a very well-done and very organized curriculum,” Critchlow said, noting that the nursing students go through online and in-person training with the ALA to make sure they have the proper techniques and terminology about asthma before they step into the classroom.
This past spring, the Fisher nursing students provided instruction to four city schools. In the spring of 2019, they will be in six schools — Schools No. 9, 17, 19, 29, 44 and 54, Graupman said.
“We have data showing the asthma rate in those schools, and we also have data that shows the absentee rate for students that have asthma in those schools,” she said, noting that that program rotates to different schools each year based on need. “We (RCSD) have such a high prevalence of asthma and because there is a kind of a lack of education, it is very important to have programs like these to help these students.”
The nursing school recently received a $4,000 grant through Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Community Health Award and plans to use the funds to expand the Open Airways program to reach more RCSD students, Critchlow said.
“Our goal would be to work with as many children as possible to help ameliorate the asthma issue,” Critchlow said of the program.
Both Critchlow and Graupman said the program and the RCSD/nursing school partnership has been well-received by all involved.
“The children love working with them (the nursing students), and the nursing students really enjoyed working with the children. They (the nursing students) could really see that this was an impactful program,” Critchlow said.