Rochester Democrat & Chronicle: Asthma effort at area school district earns recognition

(June 26, 2010)

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Ashwin Verghese • Staff writer • June 26, 2010

An asthma fair. An Asthma 101 class. An advisory council for parents of students with asthma.

The Rush-Henrietta Central School District takes its treatment of the chronic lung disease seriously.

"It really is a cross-discipline, district-wide team effort," said Lea Theuer, a nurse teacher at the Senior High School.

That effort recently earned Rush-Henrietta the American Lung Association's Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative Excellence Award, which salutes districts for their asthma management plans.

The award is nice, Theuer said, "but the real reward was the fact that we saw much improved management of student asthma."

Rush-Henrietta has launched several programs to assist families dealing with the disease.

In November, the district held an allergy and asthma fair with guest speaker Chris Draft, an asthmatic Buffalo Bills linebacker.

The district also started an Asthma 101 program to educate teachers and bus drivers about the disease.

During the school year, middle-school students would get together with a nurse teacher to discuss their asthma, while high schoolers would partner with elementary school kids in an "Asthma Buddies" program.

Rush-Henrietta started many of those projects after receiving a $15,000 grant from the Lung Association.

The district, which had 750 students identified with asthma or reactive airway disease in 2009-10, has a higher asthma prevalence rate than state and national averages, said Scott Santarella, CEO of the American Lung Association in New York.

"I think they recognized they had an issue with asthma prevalence and they took it on as sort of the community, the village trying to make a difference," Santarella said.

Along with the district's award, Theuer and Winslow Elementary School nurse teacher Jeanne Schwasman received Champion Awards for their individual efforts.

Asthma is a personal cause for Schwasman, who has three children with asthma.

Schwasman said other used to try to limit what her kids could do because of their disease.

"That always upset me," she said.

"My role here at Winslow is to educate (students) about asthma but make sure it doesn't limit them."