Aug 17, 2022

Massachusetts Nurses and School Leaders Team Up to Take On Vaping and Improve Student Well-being

Nurses have been working with public schools to serve children for generations. In Massachusetts, nurses and school leaders used funding from the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action to improve the well-being of students, especially those living in communities with low health rankings. The Campaign is an initiative of AARP Foundation, AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Since 2010, Massachusetts has required every public school to have a wellness committee that addresses topics of nutrition, physical activity, and any other issue that might affect student well-being. The Campaign’s Massachusetts Action Coalition leveraged its first Nursing Innovations Fund award to increase nurse leadership on these school wellness committees, focusing on communities that received low rankings in the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps project.

“This project aligned with a national movement to seek new leadership roles for nurses,” said Patricia Crombie, MSN, RN, project director with the Massachusetts Action Coalition. That movement included the Nurses on Boards Coalition filling more than 10,000 board seats or decision-making bodies with nurses whose strategic influence will improve the health of communities, plus additional focus by the Campaign and others to elevate nurse leaders.

“There has been a focus for several years among nurses developing leadership roles beyond the usual medical spaces,” Crombie said. “We were also developing relationships with many school nurses and public health nurses, so it all kind of came together when we saw an opportunity from the Campaign to help nurses pursue those leadership roles.”

Crucial to the success of the project was a partnership with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. This group was represented on the team by Joseph Baeta, Ed.D, superintendent of Norton Public Schools and Paul Vieira, Ed.D, superintendent of Douglas Public Schools.

Baeta said it had always bothered him that health was treated as an afterthought in school curricula. He explained that his district has taken the unusual step of instituting a year-long health class in freshman year conveying the message that it is as fundamental a subject as English or math.

Vieira agreed that the past few years have showed the state just how much nurses can do for schools. “They’re doing more than just Band-Aids and checking blood sugar,” he said. “They’re in classrooms. They’re educating staff. They’re developing curricula. They’re in planning meetings with teachers. They’re doing so many things behind the scenes to strengthen the school.”

The Massachusetts Action Coalition used its second Nursing Innovations Fund award one year later to focus on developing interventions to help school wellness committees address vaping, a top concern for school administrators.

The Action Coalition collaborated with partner organizations and school wellness committees to create a structure and process for vaping curriculum development. Its members then worked with representatives from partner organizations to create evidence-based, adaptive and developmentally appropriate curriculum based on existing state and national resources. The outcome was an Anti-Vaping Curriculum Resource Guide, which was evaluated and disseminated to school systems throughout the state.

Though the focus on the issue lessened somewhat because of the pandemic, Baeta said he anticipates that school administrators will have a much greater need for the curricula as they see their students are no less addicted than they were before COVID-19 lockdowns.

“It’s back full throttle,” he said.

In The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity, the National Academy of Medicine highlighted schools as essential sites for addressing social determinants of health. The Massachusetts project shows that with the right partnerships in place, nurses and school leaders can effectively meet the diverse needs of schools throughout the state.

Forming those kinds of partnerships takes curiosity and humility, according to Maureen Sroczynski, DNP, RN, who served on the Norton Public Schools wellness committee with Baeta.

“Instead of going in and telling people what they should do, it’s more reaching out to the community and saying, how can we help you? How can we support what you are already doing?” she said.

Baeta believes that by boosting the visibility of school nurses, this program is deepening the community’s respect for their expertise and for the many different ways they can contribute to the well-being of students. To learn more about the Massachusetts Action Coalition’s project, visit the Nursing Innovations Fund webpage.