College of Nursing students have a t-shirt that says “Villanova Nurses” on the front and on the back “Cover your mouth. Wash your hands. Get your sleep. Take your vitamins. We’ll take care of the rest.” They proved their ability to have an impact on health when they mobilized for a September 23rd screening blitz at a South Philadelphia elementary school as part of the University’s 2011 Day of Service.
Eighty undergraduate, graduate and faculty volunteers headed to the school—one where the majority of families live below the poverty line. Awaiting their arrival were 1,000 children, a welcoming principal and staff, and one talented nurse practitioner. The goal? Screen as many of the youngest students as possible to identify potential vision and growth and development issues early in the school year so they can be addressed in time to have a positive, productive academic experience.
After a brief orientation, the school cafeteria buzzed with the efficiency of a beehive as students broke up into groups and in about two hours, screened over 225 Kindergarten and first grade students (the school’s well-regarded nurse practitioner says he would have needed over two months given his workload). The Villanova Nurses assessed the youngsters’ height and weight as well as near vision, distance vision, color vision and depth perception.
Another nursing student group visited eight Kindergarten and first grade classrooms and gave energetic health presentations featuring songs about learning and hand washing and a craft project to reinforce the topic for a lifelong healthy habit.
The vision screenings will have immediate results. For example, teachers said they would be re-configuring classroom seating so that children with impaired vision are closer to the front of the room while waiting for their follow up assessments. The screening identified enough children so that the Philadelphia Eagles' Flight for Sight van will be coming to the school to provide for the children further evaluation, free eyeglasses and, as needed, referrals for continuing treatment.
The College of Nursing has an ongoing relationship with the school. Associate Professor Carol Toussie Weingarten, PhD, RN, ANEF each spring has a group of senior nursing students there for their health promotion clinical practicum. She is also the advisor of the Villanova Chapter of the Student Nurses Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP) and works with students on volunteer projects at the school. This fall screening was organized by student leaders including SNAP President Megan Copel, Vice Presidents Brittany Beckmann and Hillary Dutton, and Coordinator Sarah Gross who worked long hours to ensure success.