Nursing students teach bicycle-safety lessons at Tuscaloosa-area schools and fit kids with free bike helmets.

By:    Date: 09-16-2015

ARTICLE BY ALICE DETERS  |  PHOTOS BY JAMIE MOON

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They often say the best offense is a good defense. Nursing students enrolled in a community-health class are living out this mantra, learning the importance of public-health education and prevention. Through a service-learning class, nursing students at the University of Alabama teach bicycle safety to local elementary school students and provide the children with free bike helmets.

NUR 422 Community Health Nursing focuses on the knowledge and skills needed for community and public-health nursing. The class emphasizes health promotion, risk reduction and management and disease prevention for individuals and families in community settings. In Spring 2014, Paige Johnson and Michele Montgomery, assistant professors of nursing, began requiring students to teach bicycle-safety lessons as a service-learning component of the class.

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UA students use egg drops, work sheets and Jell-O molds to teach kids what could happen to their brains during bicycle accidents if they don’t wear helmets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 800 people die and 515,000 visit emergency rooms each year as a result of bicycle-related injuries. Children and adolescents have the highest rate of injuries, and evidence shows helmets reduce the risk of injury and death, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“After taking this course, I have a new understanding of how important it is to emphasize safety education to the community,” says Mary Halles, a senior majoring in nursing. “Safety is so important because if a patient is educated, the likelihood of the individual ending up in the hospital from an accident is significantly less.”

Capstone College of Nursing students are charged with developing and leading age-appropriate, bicycle-safety-education sessions for children in grades K-5, Johnson explains.  Working in small teams, students create teaching materials with guidance from faculty members.

“It is our hope that first and foremost, students understand the importance of health education and health promotion,” says Johnson. “Our students are primarily taught about disease treatment, but it is just as important to teach about prevention. Also, I hope that the students see how important it is to engage in the community.  They have so much to offer, and there are so many needs.  I hope that this endeavor also teaches students how important it is to use their skills to improve the health of the community in which they live and work.”

4Students use Jell-O “brain” molds, egg drops, melon drops and games to show kids how a helmet protects the brain.

Halles says she loves seeing children come to understand the importance of taking safety precautions when riding their bikes. “We did a demonstration and used an egg to represent a brain,” she says. “The egg was put into a helmet and dropped, and the egg did not break. The other egg we dropped without a helmet, and it broke. The kids really enjoyed learning with a visual representation. They said, ‘I don’t want my brain to do that!’”

The Jello-O brain activity is another kid favorite, Halles says. “It’s cool to see their faces when we drop the Jell-O and it hits the ground and splatters. You can really see the understanding of what can happen if they were to fall off their bike while not wearing a helmet.”

Students also teach kids proper techniques for ensuring helmets fit properly.
With their safety program, UA nursing students target schools with large low-income and minority populations. Children from low-income families and minority children are less likely to wear a bike helmet, according to a 2013 study titled “Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities in the Use of Helmets in Children Involved in Bicycle Accidents.”

In the Spring and Fall 2014, approximately 80 nursing students led bicycle-safety lessons at six elementary schools, reaching 450 children. Each session lasts approximately three hours, and lessons are conducted throughout the semester at each school. Students give each child a shiny, red helmet, donated by the UA Capstone College of Nursing Alumni Association, and adjust the helmets to fit properly.

3Children are excited to get their hands on the helmets.

“I like my helmet because it can help me be safe while I’m riding my bike,” explains a fifth grader at Oakdale Elementary School.

Tommi Walters, a senior majoring in nursing, says she was surprised by how appreciative the children were. “All of the students were extremely thankful, but I specifically remember there was one little boy who kept thanking us over and over,” she says. “He just seemed blown away by the fact that someone was giving him something. It was nice knowing that we were giving him the tools and knowledge that he needed in order to be safe while riding his bike.”

Teresa Constanzo, who recently retired as executive director of Tuscaloosa’s One Place, a nonprofit that operates extended-day programs at schools and made the UA bicycle-safety program part of its offerings, says bike safety is extremely important to the children the organization serves. “This opportunity for University of Alabama students to be able to come in and talk to our students in the after-school program has been a wonderful partnership,” she says.

To learn more about NUR 422 Community Health Nursing, contact Paige Johnson at ptjohnson@ua.edu or 205-348-2084 or Michele Montgomery at  mmontgomery1@bama.ua.edu or 205-348-2203.