By Ariel Worthy
Ten students sat with white lab coats, stethoscopes around their necks, waiting to receive pins and certifications for their work in nursing academy.
These weren’t college students, though. They were students from Robinson Elementary School in Fairfield in grades third through sixth. This is the first year the school started its Exploratory Nursing Program, and on Tuesday, students received recognition for their work.
Jennifer Coleman, a professor at Samford University School of Nursing and member of the Birmingham Black Nurses Association (BBNA), said she was impressed with the students’ level of knowledge of healthcare.
“These children were giving out information that we give our college students . . . the future of healthcare is in good hands; I see some healthcare leaders, some CEOs of healthcare organizations.”
Coleman, who was joined by Deborah Zimmerman and Martha Dawson – also members of the BBNA – visited the school when the program began in December, and said students were very hands-on.
“We talked about nursing, healthcare, the importance of activity, exercise, nutrition, we taught them CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation],” Coleman said. “One of our nurses let them all stick her finger to check her blood glucose. They asked questions, and we realized how amazing they were. They were asking such high-level questions . . . they surpassed our expectations. They’re so smart, inquisitive.”
Students were also taught how to take blood pressure, listen to heart rates, and check blood sugar levels for diabetes. They presented information about hypertension, health and wellness, how to test for the flu, how to properly wash hands and how to perform CPR on adults and infants.
“If your family member is not responding to you and on the floor, you have to know how to do CPR,” said Ophelia Acquah, a teacher at Robinson Elementary School, who developed the program. “There might not always be another adult around.”
Parents were also impressed with the results. Lakecia Coleman (no relation to the professor) said her 11-year-old daughter Ja’Nia, who received her pin on Tuesday, has always talked about being a doctor or nurse.
The program helped her daughter become passionate about pursuing the healthcare field, Lakecia said.
“She’s been questioning all the family on their health,” Lakecia said. “She’s been looking into it more now. One of her uncles is a diabetic, and she’s been asking a lot of questions since she got started in the program. My husband recently had surgery so she’s been on all of us about our health.”
Healthcare is a good field of work, but it’s more than a career, she said.
“[Ja’Nia] wants to be healthy and she wants our family to be healthy,” Lakecia said. “So, she’s going to be on our backs about it until we get it together. We’re going to be in good hands with these young people leading the way.”
Ophelia Acquah, a teacher at Robinson Elementary School, developed the program to introduce students to a diverse field, she said.
“Most of the career academies are in the high schools, but the pace the world is going, the kids need to be exposed at an early age – the earlier the better,” said Acquah, who has no background in healthcare but a passion for finding solutions to needs. “A lot of times students in low-income areas are forgotten, but it’s my responsibility as an educator to find a need and fix it.”
The program went beyond health and included math, Acquah said.
“[Students] had to apply what they learned from the professionals to what they learned in the lab and decide what is the problem affecting the students. They came up with weight,” she said. “They learned math calculations and how to find averages and how to find research. They worked together. They worked as a team to put the slides together.”
Students read articles, researched, and checked for accuracy with their sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. They also had labs for four weeks and “worked with their classmates as if they were nurses,” Acquah said. “One of the kids said ‘my patient’ so they had patients that came into the lab and had their weight and blood pressure checked.”
Students were asked take notes on findings, she said.
“They noticed that their peers weight fluctuated, not because they gained weight, but because they had heavier clothes on,” Acquah said. “So, these were things they considered and looked at in their research.”
Professionals also spoke to the students. “They had a dental hygienist come to class,” Acquah said. “We had a doctor of psychology from Lawson State Community College teach how to conduct their research. That’s how they designed their surveys.”
The program has been a success.
“I had some students that came to me saying ‘next year I don’t want to be a patient, I want to be a nurse,’ Acquah said. “And I hope that we do have more who are passionate about this next year.”