Earning Extra Credit

November-December 1998


As proof it has done its homework, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, ID, is receiving good grades for a partnership with five local Catholic schools designed to meet students' health and spiritual needs. The School Health Program reaches more than 1,700 students at Bishop Kelly High School and four elementary schools.

Program coordinator Kathleen Hunthausen, school nurse MaryLou Cunningham — both registered nurses — and program assistant Pat Miller are liaisons between students and faculty and the medical center's health resources. Last year they handled more than 5,100 student visits and approximately 1,800 phone calls from parents. They have held nearly 7,000 screenings for vision, hearing, dental, and other health problems.

School nurses maintain immunization and health records, develop school medication policy, promote wellness for staff and students, teach CPR and first aid, report communicable diseases, and help students and families manage chronic illness. They work on teams with counselors, teachers, educational specialists, and administors to solve students' problems.

A Brief History
The School Health Program began as a pilot project in 1994, serving the 648 students at the high school. With some grant asisstance, the program expanded the next year to the elementary schools with the addition of Cunningham as the elementary school nurse.

In 1996-97, the School Health Program and Saint Alphonsus Ambulatory Rehabilitation Services (STAARS) secured a grant to add rehabilitation and disability education, including in-service education for school staff in speech and language development, and attention deficit disorders. The grant also covered speech and language screenings and referrals for kindergartners through third-graders. Students learned about different disabilities and what it was like to live with them. They were also taught how safety measures such as wearing seat belts and bicycling with helmets can help them avoid injuries that may cause disabilities.

Growth and Expansion
School health services grew further in the 1997-98 year:

  • STAARS and the School Health Program provided more speech and language in-service training for teachers. Speech and language therapists worked more directly with students and families. Physical therapists served as athletic trainers and led in-service training about athletic injuries for coaches and student trainers. Physical therapy services were given to students when appropriate.
  • The Saint Alphonsus Auxiliary provided a grant for the School Health Program to develop a peer program to provide training and resources to students helping their peers.
  • The School Health Program and the hospital's pulmonary rehab department — with help from a medical supply company and a university nursing department — developed an asthma program for an estimated 75 asthmatic students and their families.
  • The School Health Program's nurses worked with school administrators and health teachers to organize a standardized health education curriculum for the five schools.
  • Kids on the Block, a show using puppets, taught tolerance and support for diversity and disabilities. This community outreach was presented about 10 times during the school year.

A Solid Partnership
"We can use the resources at Saint Alphonsus for the School Health Program. We have access to the library, computer experts, health promotion, pharmacists, and pediatric specialists, greatly expanding the health resources usually available to school personnel," Hunthausen said. Cunningham said the alliance allows them to design health programs that fit the specific needs of individual schools.

The program has made a positive difference in students' lives. A seventh-grader listened to Cunningham's lecture on CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. Two weeks later in a restaurant, she used her newfound knowledge to save a choking diner. Children asked their parents for bicycle helmets and safety belts after listening to a head-injury victim confined to a wheelchair. A diabetic student now has an individual health plan, so friends and teachers know how to help when needed.

Ms. Read is a freelance writer from Boise, ID


Copyright © 1998 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Earning Extra Credit

Copyright © 1998 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.