Brownstown Central Community School Corp. has set a precedent in terms of being able to help students and staff members with asthma.
It’s the first school district in the state to complete the Indiana Asthma-Friendly School Program, a voluntary award opportunity that acknowledges schools with exceptional asthma management programs.
Asthma-friendly schools make an effort to create safe and supportive learning environments for students with asthma, a condition in which a person’s airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus, which can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
To earn the designation, a school district must have policies and procedures in place allowing students to manage their asthma. The goals are to get more clean air in the schools for those with sensitive airways; teach and provide resources to the schools; and improve the health of children with asthma and management of their airways.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma is a leading chronic illness among children and adolescents in the United States and also is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.
To improve student health, attendance and academic achievement, Improving Kids’ Health, a children’s environvmental health organization, with support and guidance from the Indiana State Department of Health and Indiana Department of Education established the Indiana Asthma-Friendly School Program in 2017.
Joyce McKinney, nurse supervisor for Brownstown Central Community School Corp., said officials met with representatives from Jackson County school districts to discuss the program.
Brownstown was the only one to follow through.
“We just decided that if that was something that needed to be done for our students, we were going to do it,” McKinney said, noting there was good support from school administrators.
Officials recently visited Brownstown to present corporation leaders with plaques for achieving the silver level of recognition.
“We really appreciate them doing this because we had to have somebody be a demonstration school district, and they did really well, not just a little bit, but they went beyond expectations,” said Margaret Frericks with Improving Kids’ Health.
Jackson, Fountain and Perry counties were targeted for high rates of asthma among school-aged children and emergency room visits related to the respiratory condition.
The CDC said, on average, about three children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have asthma; nearly 1 in 2 children with asthma miss at least one day of school each year because of their asthma; and each year, asthma causes more than 10 million missed days of school.
State asthma programs utilize the data from their CDC-funded asthma surveillance systems to focus activities in areas with the most hospitalizations and emergency department visits for asthma. They work with their state asthma partnerships to identify areas with high health risk students and identify evidence-based interventions they can implement statewide.
Schools completing the program in Indiana are awarded either a bronze, silver, gold or platinum designation of being asthma-friendly. That is based on the steps they take during a school year to bring awareness to asthma and provide a better learning environment for those with the condition.
“When we designed the program, we wanted to show school districts that what they are doing already qualifies in this,” Frericks said. “Indiana has a very effective indoor air quality rule for schools, and so a lot of the bronze level is to meet those things that they would be doing already.”
At Brownstown, officials went through a checklist at each of the school buildings and gave a rating based on meeting the standards. That ranged from being a smoke-free campus to vehicles not idling at the school buildings to having a mold policy in place.
McKinney said environmental factors also come into play, including compliant heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, no fragrant scents in classrooms and being careful when spraying for insects.
The school nurses also have to ensure all students with asthma have action plans in place. McKinney said Brownstown has around 160 students in kindergarten through 12th grade with asthma, which is 7.6 percent of the corporation’s enrollment.
“An asthma plan developed with doctors identifies triggers in medicine and what to do in certain situations,” Frericks said. “Every child should have one, and wherever the child is should have a copy of that so they know what to do.”
Susan Wynn, director of respiratory care and sleep services at Schneck Medical Center, attended open house events at all three Brownstown schools to hand out consent forms for parents to fill out and also have their child’s asthma care provider fill out.
“The parents were very appreciative when they came for registration that this was being done,” she said of the asthma-friendly program.
McKinney said the school nurse keeps the signed forms on file and uses them to track data. The form is filled out every year.
“The physician has to say whether or not the child is educated well enough to carry (asthma medication) or if they need assistance,” McKinney said.
A big part of the asthma-friendly program is education, so staff members received training using resources from the American Lung Association.
“I come from a home of educators, and I’m very much aware that schools get stuff thrown at them all of the time,” Frericks said. “This is just one small component, so what we’re trying to do is work with them to make this just really part of their everyday. This is what we do every day. You’re already doing most of this stuff.”
McKinney said the corporation’s designation should ease anyone’s mind who has to deal with asthma.
“I think as a parent, it would be comforting,” she said. “I think as (staff members) coach, they feel more prepared, and that’s our goal, that if they have a child with asthma, they are not going to freak out. They are going to make sure they know where those inhalers are and feel a little more prepared.”
Frericks said children with asthma can do most things that others do.
“People are afraid a lot of times because they don’t understand the disease,” she said. “It’s just you have to be mindful. It doesn’t mean they can’t be on the football team. They just have to be careful.”
Now, the goal is to work with other school districts in the state to complete the Indiana Asthma-Friendly School Program.