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Credit: Andy Kreiss/ The L.A. Trust

Family Nurse Practitioner Glenda Leflore examines Fremont High School student Brianna Star Hernandez at the Fremont High School Wellness Center.

School-based health centers in California will take the lead in educating school staff and families nationwide about asthma attacks triggered by dust, mold, smoke and chemical cleaning products, according to a new federal grant announced earlier this month.

The grant will help school-based health center nurses, doctors and aides develop expertise in monitoring indoor air quality, in addition to the role they already play in helping students and parents manage asthma treatments at school.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $600,000 grant to the Oakland-based Public Health Institute to help school health centers fight environmental asthma triggers. In a partnership, the Public Health Institute’s Regional Asthma Management and Prevention program will bring its expertise about the impact of dust, mold and other environmental detritus, while the California School-Based Health Alliance will work with school health centers, in the state and across the country, on how best to convey the information to students, parents and school staff.

“It’s a great opportunity for school-based health centers to do something that is going to be a benefit to schools,”said Kristin Andersen, associate director of the California School-Based Health Alliance, an Oakland-based association of school health centers. “Because of their location on campus and their relationships with schools, school-based health centers can help schools identify where problems are.”

The state has 230 school-based health centers that operate on or near campuses and provide a range of services, from counseling to physicals to birth control, in partnership with community health clinics.

“It’s a great opportunity for school-based health centers to do something that is going to be a benefit to schools,” said Kristin Andersen, associate director of the California School-Based Health Alliance.

Asthma, a chronic respiratory disease, affects more than 900,000 children in California, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The disease is also a leading cause of absenteeism – an issue of increasing importance not only for the sake of student health. Schools receive funding based on Average Daily Attendance, and absenteeism affects academic progress and school culture. Improving attendance is a goal under the new school finance Local Control and Accountability Plans developed by districts.

In January, the California School-Based Health Alliance will invite school health centers in the state to apply to a six-school pilot program to gain expertise about indoor air quality and try out communication strategies.

Under the grant, the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention program and the California School-Based Health Alliance will:

  • Develop an Asthma Environmental Intervention Guide for school-based health centers nationwide that explains how to prevent and manage environmental asthma triggers at school and at home;
  • Conduct trainings at state conferences of school-based health centers in California, Michigan, New York, and Connecticut – all states with high asthma prevalence;
  • Convene a national learning collaborative among school-based health centers in California and nationwide.

“Children spend a significant amount of time at school, making schools a very important place to address asthma,” said Anne Kelsey Lamb, director of the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention program, in a statement. The goal, she said, is to “improve indoor air quality and reduce the burden of asthma.”

“School-based health centers are already working in health education and asthma management,” Andersen said. “This is going to allow them to expand into a new area.”


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