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Epilepsy Foundation Western/Central Pennsylvania's Project School Alert
By Andrea Zonneveld
Each year, 55.5 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools in the United States and it is the responsibility of the teachers and school personnel to make sure those students have a safe environment in which to learn. When my brother was in 6th grade, he put his school's first aid response to the test when he had his first convulsive seizure in the middle of music class. Most people have basic first aid training and many know how to handle emergency situations like heart attacks. But, there are many misconceptions about what to do and what not to do when someone has a seizure. This lack of proper training can lead to an increased risk of injury for a person who is having a seizure. Although the school nurse may know what to do if a student has a seizure, the nurse is not necessarily the first person on hand when a seizure occurs. Therefore, it is important that the entire school community – staff and students - learn how to properly respond to someone having a seizure.
The Epilepsy Foundation Western/Central Pennsylvania (EFWCP) has developed a program called Project School Alert to address the necessity for seizure recognition and first aid training for school personnel and students. The program, which is supported in part by the PA Department of Health, includes presentations for teachers and school personnel, trainings to empower nurses to present that same information, and sensitivity training for students based on their grade level. Education and raising awareness of epilepsy and seizures has been an important cornerstone to the mission of the EFWCP since its inception, and Project School Alert has evolved over the years into a program that many schools in the western and central regions of Pennsylvania rely on regularly. In the first four months of the current school year, the EFWCP has trained over 3000 individuals, including over 1200 teachers and over 1100 students.
How does Project School Alert work?
Project School Alert presentations can be requested by either school personnel or parents. When training for the school is requested by a parent, our program staff contacts the school on behalf of the parents to arrange a presentation. We are able to offer this program free of charge and work around the schools' schedules, making more schools willing and excited to work with us.
How can other affiliates replicate this program?
Any affiliate that would like to replicate this program can visit the EFWCP website to read more about Project School Alert by clicking here or by contacting me at 412-322-5880, extension 308 or email@example.com. Epilepsy Foundation National programs and presentations are also extremely helpful to affiliates interested in developing similar projects. The CDC has funded the development of standardized training curriculums for school audiences. "Managing Students with Seizures", for example, is a very useful resource for school nurses and teachers.
When conducting School Alert presentations, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Be engaging. I always start the presentations by telling my own story; because it is important explain from the beginning why the training is vital for everyone. The staff needs to know that even if they do not have a child who has seizures in their classroom now, they never know when a student could have their first seizure, or when any of us might encounter a person having a seizure in the community.
Be flexible. Schools usually have very rigid schedules, so they may not be able to accommodate a presentation that is an hour in length. Focus on the most important information the school needs to know, like particular seizure types their students might be experiencing. Make sure the staff has a way to contact you if they have additional questions after you leave and leave behind handouts for students and teachers to share.
Be informative. Besides presenting seizure recognition and first aid information, take this time to dispel some of the myths surrounding epilepsy. You should especially focus on things the teachers might want to share with their students, like epilepsy is not contagious; epilepsy is not a sign of mental illness, etc.
Be persistent. If seizure training is a new concept to a school, they may need some additional encouragement and repeated contacts before the school accepts your offer.
Find an advocate within the school or school district. Having a teacher, school administrator or school nurse who is willing to endorse your program may help to encourage individual schools to participate in training.
Seek guidance from other affiliates. Many affiliates have been providing training in the schools for many years. Reach out to other organizations within the affiliate network to ask for advice and ideas on how to make your school based epilepsy education an effective program in your community.
- --Andrea Zonneveld is the Community Education & Events Coordinator for the Epilepsy Foundation Western/Central Pennsylvania, and she coordinates the Project School Alert program.