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Not Just for Health Class

Mercy Gives Educators Free Access to a Cross-Curricular Program That Teaches Students How to Lead Healthy Lives

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Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 12:30 am | Updated: 10:34 am, Tue Feb 7, 2012.

First-grade students in Erin Bauer’s class at Fifth Street Elementary in Washington had just come in from morning recess at 10 a.m. as they prepared for their next assignment — a minute of deep breathing.

The image of a blue ball projected on to the classroom’s White Board guided their breath — as the ball grew larger, the children inhaled; and as it grew smaller, they exhaled.

The children didn’t fidget in their seats. They watched the ball and made their breath follow its pattern.

Afterward the children said they felt calmer, and their teacher agreed.

Even though she has only been using this Deep Breathing App, offered by HealthTeacher, for a few days, it does seem to help the students get into a mindset to do assignments.

“I have noticed a difference,” she said. “They do seem calmer, and they like it.”

What Is HealthTeacher?

The Deep Breathing App is one of many lessons that HealthTeacher offers educators to help them teach students about health literacy.

The program has been made available free to all area educators through the Sisters of Mercy Health System, which has committed $5 million over the next five years for health education in schools in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

It’s a commitment made after receiving feedback from Franklin County residents during a series of community roundtable discussions on their vision of health care in their towns and Mercy’s long-range goals for the region.

Guests were invited to discuss health care issues that concerned them and repeatedly that list included the health habits of area children, said Terri McLain, president of Mercy Hospital Washington.

“From that we began a partnership with HealthTeacher,” she said.

A worldwide provider of online health lesson plans and resources focused on improving health from kindergarten through 12th grade, HealthTeacher has been used with great success in some of the nation’s largest school districts for more than a decade.

“Schools are hungry for this because school budgets continue to shrink across the country and anything outside of what schools are required to test for gets cut first,” said Lynn Britton, Mercy president and CEO.

“While our children must have a knowledge of the basics, it’s critical we also educate them on how to lead healthy lives.”

Partnering with Mercy, an entire health system, is a first for HealthTeacher.

In Mercy’s four-state area (Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma), to date 214 schools have signed letters of participation with HealthTeacher. That’s over 1,640 schools serving over 700,000 students.

Locally, 24 school districts in the area served by Mercy Hospital Washington were invited to enroll in HealthTeacher. School districts in Washington, Union and Sullivan are among those that accepted the challenge. They attended training sessions in the fall and are beginning to use HealthTeacher this school year.

“It is a wonderful program,” Dr. Judy Straatmann, assistant superintendent for the Washington School District, said of HealthTeacher.

“We are lucky to have this free high-quality tool available for our use.”

Physicians like Robert Bergamini, M.D., pediatric oncologist at Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, believe that education programs like HealthTeacher can make a very real difference in turning the tide of childhood obesity.

“Just 20 or 30 years ago, you could smoke on a plane, at the office, in public buildings and at most restaurants,” he said. “Today, because of a focused effort to educate young Americans about the dangers of smoking, it has become less and less common to see adults smoke anywhere. The tide has completely turned. Education worked to reduce smoking; it can do the same to improve children’s health.”

How the Program Works

HealthTeacher is an online resource that educators can access to find complete lesson plans on a certain topic, as well as activities or articles highlighting the latest research on a topic.

Aligned with the National Health Education Standards, the HealthTeacher curriculum focuses on health, nutrition, mental health, injury prevention, anatomy, as well as on the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

“There are 10 content areas, each with different lessons grouped according to grade level,” said Kevin Lee, executive director of planning, Mercy Center for Innovative Care in Chesterfield.

The program allows the educators to decide how to use the lessons and how much of a lesson to use, said Lee.

From the home page, www.healthteacher.com, educators can search for a lesson by topic/skill or by grade level/subject area.

Right now the two most popular lessons on HealthTeacher are in nutrition and anatomy, Lee noted.

Once teachers find a lesson they would like to use, in whole or in part, and they click on it, they are given an overview of the lesson, including its grade level alignments with the Department of Education and Secondary Education standards.

It also provides step-by-step instructions for how to teach the lesson, as well as a plan for assessment and related lessons.

One of the most exciting aspects of HealthTeacher, said Lee, is that it shows educators of any subject how they can incorporate health literacy into their classroom. In today’s world, where childhood obesity and the many health concerns associated with it continue to be a concern, that’s a must.

“Health literacy is a 21st century skill, and we all have a responsibility to teach it,” Lee remarked.

“It’s not just the health or PE teacher’s job, but HealthTeacher shows you how a science teacher can teach it, an English teacher . . .

“You can use nutrition lessons to teach math. There are any number of ways to use this information.”

Also exciting is that HealthTeacher is continually updated with the newest information, said Lee, who described it as “a living textbook.

“In a traditional school setting, they might change the textbooks every seven years, but this text (at HealthTeacher.com) can be updated year to year to stay relevant.”

Local Teachers Weigh In

Kym Blankenship, a health/PE teacher at Washington High School, said so far she has used three HealthTeacher lessons and was “pleased with the outcome.”

One was a lesson on nutrition where students analyzed food labels and serving sizes, something she has routinely taught her students in the past.

But the HealthTeacher lesson offered her a new approach. Rather than just showing students what a serving size looks like, the HealthTeacher lesson suggested having students look at a plate of food and then figure out how many servings were on it.

“I like that way much better,” Blankenship remarked.

Drug and alcohol abuse was another subject from HealthTeacher that she accessed, combining it with the text content she already had. Blankenship said the HealthTeacher information allowed her students “to dig deeper” in to the material allowing them “to better connect with the material.

“We did the lesson on ‘Why some people use alcohol’ so we could identify what were the reasons and brainstorm what they could do instead of abusing alcohol,” she said.

Blankenship said one lesson she’s eager to use is how different drugs affect the neurons of the brain.

“It’s a very great visual and active teaching lesson,” she remarked.

“I also will utilize the lesson on Respect in a Relationship. We have a guest presenter from ALIVE (Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments) and it will make for a great follow-up to the information Cathy Covington (from ALIVE) presents.”

As she has become more familiar with HealthTeacher, clicking through the website to read about its many activities and lessons, Blankenship is excited for the months and years ahead.

“I find that there is a great supply of lessons and activities that will supplement our current curriculum,” she said. “I look forward to integrating those lessons this semester and next year.”

Other teachers echoed Blankenship’s enthusiasm. Many had not yet used the HealthTeacher lessons in their classrooms, but they planned to later this year.

Tim Buschmann, a PE teacher at Washington West Elementary, said he plans to use HealthTeacher lessons in February, tying into the “Jump Rope for Heart” activity the school does for the American Heart Association.

“During the entire month I do curriculum related to the heart and eating right,” he said.

Dr. Tanya Voss, director of student services for Sullivan Public Schools, said the district nurses and three of its PE teachers have been trained for HealthTeacher. They are still becoming familiar with the program and how to bring it into their classrooms, but they are excited about the potential.

“We felt it would be additional resources that our teacher and students could benefit from,” said Voss. “That was what sold us on the program.”

These schools and others that haven’t yet signed up for HealthTeacher have five years to do so. That’s how long the Sisters of Mercy Health System have committed to the program.

After that they will evaluate its effectiveness.

“We are not just initiating a program then backing away,” said Britton. “We are in this for the long haul to ensure this takes root with our children. Like the Sisters of Mercy before us, we not only respond to the needs of the community but we see them through to fruition.”

For more information on HealthTeacher, people can visit www.healthteacher.com.

Schools wanting to sign up with the program should contact Ed Fitzgerald at ed.fitzgerald@healthteacher.com.

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