A group of KIPP Kirkpatrick Elementary School students are running back and forth between adults holding a green circle, yellow circle and red circle.
The adults are graduate nursing students from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, and they’re quizzing the KIPPsters on their newfound knowledge about asthma.
“So what do you do if you feel like your chest is a little tight?” asks Kiara Franco, a first year nursing student.
All the kids run to the yellow circle and scream, “Tell an adult!”
“And what do you do if you’re feeling good and can take, big, deep breaths?”
“You go and play!” This group of first graders sprint back to the green circle. Because green means go.
This is the second year students have run the Green Means Go program at KIPP Kirkpatrick as part of the Community Health Course at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.
Program instructor and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Jennifer Ridgway, explains, “The goal of the program is to teach children to monitor their own asthma symptoms and for them to be able to tell an adult when they need intervention.
We want them to be able to identify symptoms like coughing, or that it hurts to breathe and walk, which is possibly preventing them from being able to play with their friends.”
About 19 percent of KIPP Kirkpatrick’s students have asthma and have participated in the seven-week long program, which includes lessons and tutorials that make learning about asthma fun.
“The students think it’s hilarious when we talk about the three ‘s-es’, squeeze, snot and swell,” says Ridgway. “Squeeze means their airway is tight. Snot means there’s mucus in their airway and swell stands for inflammation in the lungs. If students know those basics, they’re much more able to advocate for their own health.”
For Franco, the program is more than just teaching the curriculum, “I’m in the pediatrics track, so I love being around kids in their daily environment. Being out in the community makes our work seem real and brings it to the patient level, so it’s not just learning things in a nursing classroom.”
It’s community partnerships like this that KIPP Nashville’s Medical Director, Dr. Andrew Abreo, says can make a real difference in schools.
“I think people would be surprised to learn that asthma is responsible for 14 million missed school days each year in the United States. Since students spend most of their waking hours at school, and poor asthma control is directly linked with absenteeism, it makes a lot of sense to teach our kids the skills they need to manage their symptoms and advocate for themselves.”
A’leigh, a first grader says she’s learned a lot over the past few weeks.
“I learned about some things that can make me feel sick, like a furry dog or curtains that are dusty,” she says.
Ridgway adds, “Through this program, we know that even five and six-year-olds can monitor themselves. By the end of our curriculum, students have picked up on some key points – that asthma isn’t contagious, and that coughing is often a symptom of asthma. Even the kindergartners are experts and can repeat this now!”
Maybe most importantly, A’leigh says she now recognizes when she needs to find an adult and get help.