When USC student nurses walk into the classrooms at Murchison Elementary School in East Los Angeles with their stethoscopes, the kids might expect to get a shot in the arm or hear the words, “Say ahhhh!”
Instead, they get to listen to stories-lots of fun stories-and information about how to stay in good health along the way.
The student nurses are kicking off the new Reading is Healthy program, which brings USC senior nursing students into Murchison to read health-related books to children in kindergarten through third grade. Besides reading stories, they talk about health professions and teach about topics such as hygiene and how the body works.
Reading is Healthy is part of USC Neighborhood Outreach, a nonprofit corporation funded through USC’s annual Good Neighbors Campaign. This year’s campaign, running through Nov. 12, aims for $600,000 in contributions from faculty and staff. Funds will be designated for supporting partnerships in nearby communities-such as Reading is Healthy-and United Way charities.
“Our goal is to get more projects out of HSC to go into schools and other sites in the local area,” said Maria Lou Calanche (Lou), director for community outreach at the Health Sciences Campus.
Janet Schneiderman, assistant professor of clinical nursing at USC, directs the Reading is Healthy program with a $19,000 grant, which mostly pays for books for the children and for two nursing graduate student coordinators, Diane Kehrli and Andrea Tonasut-Millet.
Although USC nursing students already are heavily involved in community health efforts, from doing health assessments on foster children to regularly visiting a housing project to handle primary care needs, Schneiderman thought USC student nurses would benefit from a direct link to an elementary school. Murchison is one of two area schools that have created a formal partnership with USC, and it is just a quick stroll away from the Health Sciences Campus. The other is Bravo Medical Magnet High School. Five other schools are partnered with the University Park Campus.
“The school and the nursing faculty came up with the idea together,” Schneiderman said. “We wanted something that would benefit the children and our students. Our nursing program is very interested in health promotion, and this is a way to begin early with that approach.”
Each semester, 40 senior nursing students go into Murchison as part of their nursing coursework. They spend 45 minutes in the classroom each week for three weeks, each nurse sitting down with an intimate group of no more than five students.
Over the course of a year, each K-3 child will be seen by a nursing student, and be read to six times.They read from books with quirky health-related titles:
“My Tooth is About to Fall Out.”
“I Don’t Want to Take a Bath.”
“Curious George Goes to the Hospital.”
“The School Nurse from the Black Lagoon.”
Murchison teachers picked the books to best suit their literacy goals, and time spent reading with volunteers and visiting nurses bolsters exposure to the pleasure of a good story. With help from the national program Reading is Fundamental, each child gets to pick four books at the end of the program to take home.
The nurses also use their time in the classroom to talk about the human body and its daily care, using attention-getting models like a foot-wide set of teeth (and huge toothbrush to match) and food pyramids.
“The program supports the teaching of the health sciences at our school, in subjects like dental care, hygiene and nutrition,” said Ana Martinez, vice principal at Murchison and the school’s coordinator of the program. “And then it also supports our literacy efforts. It’s another model for children: an adult reading to them and with them.”
Spanish-speaking nurses go into bilingual classrooms, as well, and children benefit from seeing role models and learning about medical professions directly from adults preparing to begin their careers in health care.
Eighty of the nursing program’s 130 senior nursing students will participate.
Martinez said it only makes sense to join with the nursing students as partners.
“We have the nursing school so close,” Martinez said. “It’s great to bridge with them.”