Top Story - Fighting for Asthma-Friendly Schools: Cindy Trubisky

(May 16, 2013)

Cindy Trubisky is a Senior Director of Community Asthma Education for the American Lung Association in New York.   For nine years she has excelled at helping communities in her area plan and implement comprehensive asthma management programs within local schools and existing school structures by following the approach outlined in the Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative (AFSI).  Cindy has proven to be a true lung hero by helping to create school environments where kids with asthma can stay healthy, in school and ready to learn.  We took time during National Asthma Awareness Month to talk to Cindy and learn more about managing asthma in schools.

 


Cindy Trubisky

Question: Why is addressing asthma management in school so important?

Cindy: The public generally does not perceive asthma as a major, life-threatening public health issue that can be a serious challenge for a child’s everyday life.  The truth is, asthma poses a strong risk and challenge to good quality of life, learning opportunities in school and future success as a healthy and productive adult.  Asthma can’t be cured but it can be controlled.  A child should never have to limit their activities or risk death due to this chronic condition.  Asthma affects more than 25 million Americans, including more than 7 million kids.  It is a leading cause of school absenteeism accounting for an estimated 10 million lost school days, nationwide.  In a classroom of 30 children, on average three are likely to be diagnosed with asthma. 

Question: What are some of the projects you do in partnership with schools to address asthma?

Cindy: Over the past nine years I have worked for the Lung Association, I have had the pleasure of working with five school districts on a formal AFSI project. The AFSI Model includes: 1) Community Asthma Planning, 2) Maximizing School Health Services, 3) Asthma Education and Awareness, 4) Building a Healthy School Environment, and 5) Physical Activity. All of these components are proven ways to produce results and reduce asthma symptoms. 

With each of these projects there were similar approaches (addressing the five components above) and individual focus areas such as completing the School Health Index needs assessment, improving Asthma Action Plan use or creating new tools like asthma pages in the student health records.  In some cases, we also work to provide asthma education opportunities to everyone within the schools such as school health services, teachers or even bus drivers. 

We also help improve the environment through green cleaning, fragrance free/animal free classrooms. The key factor over the long term is to incorporate permanent “systems change.” It’s what I call the “3 P’s”: Policies, Procedures and Practices. The two major types of policies include 1) creating a comprehensive approach to asthma management for students, and 2) supporting an asthma friendly school environment.

Question: What can students and parents do to help create an asthma-friendly learning environment?

Cindy: By joining the AFSI team, students and their parents can represent their needs in a realistic and meaningful way. They can each participate in educational opportunities. Finally, parents can join together to form an Asthma and Allergy Parent Advisory Committee that will work together to benefit the whole school/district.

Question: What can faculty and staff members do to support an asthma-friendly learning environment?

Cindy: Faculty and staff can be important parts of the solution. By volunteering to do their part in their classroom, or by joining an AFSI - event or committee they can create a healthier and more productive learning environment. This may be in the form of a carpet or fragrance free classroom or perhaps creating a “buddy system” so that a child with asthma symptoms doesn’t need to walk to the nurse’s office alone.  And, of course, they can become educated about asthma themselves. With approximately 10 percent of children in school having asthma, faculty and staff will likely be in contact with students that have asthma on a daily basis.

Question: What is your favorite part about working with schools?

Cindy: I don’t have one favorite part of AFSI. I have many! One favorite part is when the AFSI school team “clicks” together to the point where they are all moving in the right direction, and the enthusiasm becomes infectious. The “flip” from when the thoughts were “we can’t do that because…” to “wow, look at what we accomplished.” When this way of thinking changes, support starts to build and that results in the 3 P’s that sustain the changes for good!

Another favorite part is to look back at where we all started to gather the “Success Stories” or accomplishments of the team. These stories can come in all shapes and sizes - from the full success of the AFSI implementation to a testimonial stating “I didn’t know that, and now I can use this information at home with my family as well as in my classroom,” or describing how they utilized Lung Association asthma resources such as Asthma Basics, Asthma 101, Lungtropolis video game for kids or Open Airways for Schools.

The ultimate success is having the child and whole school become able to support and prevent a death by knowing what to do in an emergency and taking action when necessary.  As an Asthma Educator, these moments are truly inspiring professionally and are personally so rewarding!  AFSI doesn’t cost a lot, just some time, dedication and passionate educators/parents who want to improve the lives of children with asthma and allow them to become the best they can be!

Additional information on Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative can be found by visiting, www.lung.org/afsi. For details about local school-based asthma resources, reach out to your local Lung Association office at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).