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Grant Expands Nursing Students’ Efforts to Teach Asthma Education to RCSD Students

May 10, 2018

Approximately 20 percent of students who attend the Rochester City School District (RCSD) have been diagnosed with asthma. Now, thanks to a grant from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, the Wegmans School of Nursing at St. John Fisher College will have a greater opportunity to help those students manage their disease through an expansion of the American Lung Association’s (ALA) Open Airways for Schools educational program.

Logo for the American Lung Association's Open Airways for Schools Program.

The Wegmans School of Nursing has implemented the Open Airways curriculum in RCSD elementary schools since spring 2017. The $4,000 grant, given through Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Community Health Awards program, allows the School to broaden its impact during the next academic year, ensuring the College’s commitment to the expansion of the program.  Fisher was one of 13 Rochester area organizations to receive the award, which support programs that aim to improve the health status of the community. The grant was obtained in collaboration with Fisher’s Office of Sponsored Research.

Open Airways uses evidence-based curriculum that includes six different lessons that teach students about the signs and symptoms of an asthma attack, common triggers for asthma, and how to use an inhaler, among other topics.

“It’s a very hands-on, interactive curriculum that offers an age-appropriate way to teach kids how to understand what asthma is and how to stay healthy,” said Dr. Pam Mapstone, an associate professor in the School of Nursing.

The curriculum is delivered by second semester seniors studying in the School of Nursing as part of their pediatric and community clinical rotation requirements. The Fisher students are first trained in the curriculum using an online module created by ALA, followed by an in-person skill-building session, where they learn teaching techniques to make the lessons successful. Then, under the guidance of a clinical instructor, the nursing undergraduates work in small groups with the RCSD students to deliver six 40-minute lessons.

“Our students learn how to effectively teach the curriculum and become Open Airways certified in the process,” Mapstone said. “Our students benefit from being able to get out in the community and see in real-time what kids in the school district are facing as it relates to an asthma diagnosis and they have the ability to make a positive impact on these kids’ lives.”

As a health issue, untreated or mismanaged asthma can lead to repeat visits to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms and can result in chronic absenteeism for students, negatively impacting their academic performance.

“The children benefit from Open Airways because they learn about themselves and their own health. The program is about empowering children to learn how to manage asthma,” said Dr. Caroline Critchlow, assistant dean of the School of Nursing, who said Open Airways includes outreach and educational materials for parents, as well.

In all, Critchlow said the grant will allow the School to increase its reach from about 40 students to 60 next year.  “We have a great relationship with ALA and RCSD and we are excited to move this program forward.”