School-based Educational Intervention Improves Asthma Self-Treatment among Young Children

A "service learning" collaboration that matches respiratory therapy students with elementary schools improves kids' and caregivers' awareness of asthma triggers and reduces unscheduled inhaler use.

A “service learning” partnership in Texas received its second Humanitarian Award from the CHEST Foundation on Tuesday for a program aimed at improving asthma self-treatment among Texas schoolchildren.

The award, which came with a second grant, was made to the Asthma Blow Out program, a partnership between students at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the North East Independent School District. The program, which implements lung lessons in local schools, will expand the health fairs to five more schools, potentially benefitting 8,000 children in the district with asthma, according to Prof. De De Gardner, MSHP, chair of the department of respiratory care at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

In 2012, the program received its first grant from the CHEST Foundation, which allowed it to focus on providing education to the one elementary school in the district with the highest prevalence of asthma (17%).

The program is also a recipient of the American Lung Association Gold Status Award, and has been recognized by the president, and received federal funding, according to Gardner, who gave a presentation Tuesday titled “The Community Learning Service Project in a Community-Based Asthma Program: A Win-Win Relationship” at CHEST 2013, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in Chicago, IL.

The program began in 2007, when Gardner and colleagues enlisted about 70 respiratory therapy students in a bachelors degree program to teach elementary school students how to use medications and delivery devices. Under the previous model, the health fairs were designed to educate a cluster of elementary schools and middle schools that all fed into one high school, and between 2007 and 2011 services were provided to more than 3,000 children, Gardner added.

But the program was expanded in 2012 by a Community Service Learning Grant from the university’s Center for Ethics and Humanities. The organizers created the 2+2 Asthma Education Crew, which provided education to 277 children and parents at five schools, with Gardner serving as faculty mentor.

The program is designed to avert tragedies like those which befell 11-year-old Sam Linton, a British child was left to die in a school corridor from an asthma attack in 2010.

The health fairs implement a concept called “service learning,” a component of formal undergraduate education using student reflection as a key component, which is intended to equally benefit the provider and the recipient.

While some schools in the district have relatively high rates of asthma. For example, Camelot Elementary School has a 16.98% rate of asthma, Colonial Hills has a 15.1% rate, Dellview has a 15.9% rate, and Wetmore has a rate of 16.4%. Children with severe asthma are about three times more likely to repeat a grade than children with a mild form of the disease.

“The health fairs were not designed as a research program, but we measured pre -and post-intervention inhaler use, both scheduled and unscheduled, and we have actually seen a decrease in unscheduled inhaler use after our interventions,” Gardner explained. “The school district also did a very good job with the environment in the classroom, but you have to have medications that work, and the kids have to know what the triggers are and how to avoid them,” she added.