Utilizing Undergraduate Nursing Students to Provide Health Education in Elementary Schools

Article excerpt

Health education, a major component of a coordinated school health program (CSHP), is a key school-based intervention for improving the health-related knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of students.[1] Viewed in a larger context, schools "are not only places for instruction, but also places where over 3 million of our nation's working adults and essentially all of its' young people spend a major portion of their lives."[2] While federal mandates exist for emergency plans, no national mandates require activities or education related to prevention of illness or injury. Individual states, including Illinois in the Comprehensive Health Education Program of the School Code of Illinois, 2000, mandate health education.[3] However, little public demand calls for schools to educate students about health-related behavior choices that will influence their lives.[4]

Health education often competes with other subjects. The demands of an increasingly complex curriculum may result in the omission of health education because it may not be considered a high priority. Frequently, school nurses are responsible for health education. Passarelli[5] observed that school nurses, given their direct access to children, families, and school personnel, are in a unique position to have the skills and knowledge to improve children's health and the ability to learn. School nurses have the educational preparation, clinical experience, and contact with the community that enable them to better understand the concepts of health and illness, and therefore utilize health education to promote the well-being of students, families, and the community. Through health education activities school nurses help to prepare students and their families, school personnel, and the community to make health-related choices. School nurses recognize that the populations they serve need health-related knowledge and opportunities to explore values and attitudes about health matters before they can make decisions about health.[6] With the increased involvement of school nurses in the various aspects of CSHPs, such as providing direct clinical services, health counseling, consultation, staffing, promoting a safe school environment, faculty and staff health promotion, and involvement in the local community, health education may receive a lesser priority due to time constraints and program responsibilities.

Alternative resources need to be considered to ensure inclusion of health education in school curricula. Some educators, including Bradley,[7] question the availability of school and community resources for the health education of students, parents, and school staff. Others[8] consider school and university partnerships as important vehicles for innovation. Brown[9] observed that colleges and universities have a long history in working collaboratively with K-12 schools.

Baccalaureate nursing students represent an untapped resource for providing health education in elementary schools. Nursing students are prepared to understand the essential concepts of health and illness, to apply the nursing and teaching/learning processes, and to provide population-focused prevention in the community. Passarelli[10] also reported that coursework in baccalaureate nursing programs included child growth and development, education, and interdisciplinary team functioning. Such preparation makes them uniquely qualified to provide health education. Bradley described Wold's comparison of the common steps in the health education process with the steps in the nursing process and concluded that they were "not radically different."[7] Nursing students, according to Matteson,[11] are able to offer developing health care expertise to work in a collaborative process. Collaborating with a school nurse and the school faculty, baccalaureate nursing students could be used to provide a continuing health education experience to local school populations.

BACKGROUND

This case study describes an experience utilizing undergraduate nursing students as an alternative and effective resource to provide health education in a large, (approximately 1,026 students) public elementary school. …