Project Description/Mission Statement
Self-management of asthma is vital to successfully control the disease, but only 30% of children with asthma are given a written asthma management action plan (CDC, 2008). Honors in Community Health has partnered with Bruce Elementary in HISD and to provide needed asthma education through Better Respiratory Education and Assistance Targeting Houston's Elementary (BREATHE). Undergraduate and elementary students explore the nature of respiration and asthma together, learning how to advocate for the health of both themselves and their peers. BREATHE serves to build capacity through engaged learning so asthmatic children can take charge of their own health outcomes.
Better Respiratory Education and Assistance Targeting Houston’s Elementary (BREATHE)
Asthma has been identified as the most common chronic illness in children with long-term health effects. Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities with limited healthcare access demonstrate the highest rates of related hospitalizations. Traditional approaches to improve health outcomes focus on clinical interventions that struggle to maintain attendance and interfere with schooling by compromising attendance. Fortunately, community-university partnerships can be leveraged to a provide consistent curriculum focused on student-led interactions and health self-advocacy in school. This bottom-up approach targets health illiteracy by teaching asthma pathology and respiratory health through an interpersonal interface that bilaterally enriches community awareness.
Better Respiratory Education and Awareness Targeting Houston’s Elementary (BREATHE) is an undergraduate-constructed community project in its fifth year. It maintains an elementary school partnership in the Fifth Ward where volunteers design and lead interactive respiratory curriculum that is delivered weekly to third graders. Through conversation-based learning and activities, students change their outlook on respiratory health, asthma triggers, and health self-advocacy. Pre-health undergraduates establish leadership by navigating organizational difficulties for program sustainability and are empowered to lead public health initiatives.
By complementing public health education with community partnerships, undergraduates expand their technical understanding of health with experiential knowledge of interpersonal community intervention. Furthermore, applying a dynamic understanding of public health to incite local change prepares students to professionally challenge the social determinants of health.
BREATHE represents a model for improving the feasibility of a childhood asthma-intervention program. While it has demonstrated its ability to consistently engage both university and elementary students, long-term quantified improvement in health outcomes is a necessary metric to assess its full potency.
About the authors: Zeba Bhanji (BS in Human Nutrition) and Kristen Harris (BS in Biochemistry) served as project heads for the 2021-2023 academic years. They presented a poster highlighting BREATHE’s community impact at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Meeting & Expo in November 2022.
We conduct educational sessions about breathing and asthma during elementary students’ lunches. Undergraduate facilitators educate students on asthma physiology, recognizing when something plans of action for the students should they or their peers ever have difficulty breathing. As a facilitator, you will have the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with your students and watch them grow into vigilant individuals who can identify an adult resource when necessary. With your guidance, they will come to understand how asthma works, the ways in which the environment can affect their health, and how to advocate for themselves.
What’s it like being a facilitator?
- It’s a lot of fun! In-person, each facilitator is assigned four students to guide through weekly lessons through the semester. Online, volunteers teach these interactive lessons through a Zoom call. Regardless of the format, you’ll be able to teach your kids about asthma while developing a personal connection with them!
What does the time commitment look like?
- The time commitment for BREATHE in person is 1.5 hours every week, which includes the commute to and from our sites.
Where will I be volunteering?
- We volunteer at an elementary school in Houston’s Fifth Ward, a historically underserved area in terms of education and healthcare. The school is a short drive from UH (only around ten minutes) and carpools are available! We also volunteer at CHAT, an organization based in Southwest Houston that is dedicated to advancing the health of the immigrant and refugee populations it serves.
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