AASA Partners With Districts on Asthma Initiatives

by RACHEL SMOLKIN

Eleven schools around the nation are trying to reduce asthma-related absences with a little help from AASA.

The association has launched a five-year effort to reduce the burden of asthma among children. During 2002-2003, AASA provided small grants to assist rural, urban and suburban schools in improving asthma management, curtailing sick days and boosting academic results.

“The whole premise is to look at best practices for keeping children in school and learning,” says Susan Chaides, coordinator of health and nursing services for the Alhambra School District in Los Angeles County, one of the grant recipients. “Ultimately our goal is that our kids are in school and able to learn and concentrate and that asthma is not impacting their learning.”

Financed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, the mini-grants are part of a $1 million, 5-year cooperative agreement between AASA and CDC.

To receive the money, school officials had to present a plan outlining their approach to asthma management and education and agree to test two practices developed by a national panel convened by AASA.

School initiatives include efforts to enhance parental knowledge, improve communication with physicians and local health departments, increase asthma clinic referrals and develop specialized asthma plans for individual students. Some school officials are developing systemwide health forms to standardize records or asking nurses to write quarterly reports to the doctors of children with asthma.

Fighting Misconceptions
A major goal among all participating schools is to dissolve misconceptions that students, parents and faculty might have about asthma, which now ranks as the most common chronic childhood disease.

School officials said many families lack sufficient education about the illness. Sometimes children use inhalers too often or they’re not taking optimal medications. Sometimes parents wrongly believe that a child with asthma cannot participate in physical education.

“We’ve run into some situations at schools where we’ve found that they don’t really understand the health needs,” says Beverly Smith, coordinator of student services in the Talladega County, Ala., schools, a grant recipient.

Smith recalls a situation in which a 7th-grader with asthma missed school frequently. School officials learned the student’s mother was afraid he might die if she sent him to school.

Smith invited the mother to school and gathered his teachers, principal, physical education teacher, school counselors and school system nurse Laurie Thornton as well as medical personnel from the local hospital. They helped the mother to understand that her son would be safe at school and explained the importance of disclosing previous medications when her son switched doctors.

Talladega school officials are planning parent conferences and health fairs that will address asthma management. Smith said she also hoped to purchase a video about asthma that could educate teachers, bus drivers and custodians. Thornton will visit some homes to help parents create healthier environments outside school. Dust and pets in the home, for example, could exacerbate a student’s asthma episodes.

“We also are preparing programs for our parents because we feel the education of parents about asthma is very important,” says Don Kussmaul, superintendent in East Dubuque, Ill., a grant recipient. “We can change conditions in our schools, but they have to also realize that they need to make changes at home as well.”

This project keeps students with asthma in school and learning through the use of a set of strategies, or powerful practices, designed and tested by local school districts. To receive a draft of these practices or other information on this project, contact Tennille Brown at 703-875-0759 or tbrown@aasa.org.