Rutgers University Camden Nursing Students Learn While Teaching Preschool Children About Healthy Living

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CAMDEN, N.J. -

Some Trenton preschool children are getting an early start to a life of healthy eating and physical activity thanks to lessons they are learning from Rutgers University-Camden nursing school students.

 This semester, juniors at the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden are teaching health-promoting behaviors to low-income children in the preschool program at the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) of Mercer County in Trenton.

“It’s a good community experience for us because our students get to see kids in a healthy environment,” says Kathie Prihoda, a Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden clinical assistant professor who oversees the nursing school’s partnership with the CYO. She is also a member of the CYO board and the organization’s health council.

Three days a week, the Rutgers University–Camden students spend the day at the preschool, teaching the children about health and safety issues, including mindfulness, simple yoga positions, dental hygiene, and proper hand-washing to prevent the spread of germs.

To promote healthy food choices, the lunch served at the school follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “My Plate” guidelines for a balanced diet of fruits, grains, vegetables, and protein. Lunch includes healthy foods some students have never eaten, such as green beans. To encourage students to try foods that are new to them, teachers ask the students to take two bites of the food.

“Even the ones that didn’t finish it, they all tried it,” says Kate Ormsby, a junior Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden student from Maple Shade.

The nursing school program, called “Curriculum in a Box,” provides the three- and four-year-old students with all of the learning materials related to the topics covered through the semester. Each student receives a box filled with worksheets, games, and books. For each session, students retrieve the box and pick out the items for that day’s topic. For the topic on being a good friend, the students read the book The Bully and the Shrimp. After the reading, everyone sits in a circle to play a game in which a student tosses a ball of yarn to another student and pays him or her a compliment. The students’ final activity is singing the “Friendship Song.”

Their regular teachers, who cover the same topics in their curriculum, reinforce in class what the children are learning in the sessions. Every day, the school sends notes home to let parents know what was discussed in school, so the preschoolers can continue the conversations with their families.

Launched in the fall of 2018, the program began with the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden students getting acquainted with the preschoolers by conducting health screenings, including weighing them, measuring their height, and taking their blood pressure.

Prihoda hopes to start a “Curriculum in a Box” program closer to the Rutgers?Camden campus.

The sessions are mutually beneficial for the future nurses and the preschoolers. The young children learn how to live healthy lives, and the nursing students have an opportunity to learn about patients they will encounter when they become nurses.

“We want our students to see where these kids are coming from,” says Prihoda. “What is their life at home? It is an underserved community. It gives you a different perspective. It’s not just taking vital signs; it’s really looking at the whole patient.”

“A part of our jobs when we are nurses is to take care of people who come from every single background,” says Devon Nagle, a Rutgers?Camden junior from Cape May Courthouse. “I literally walk down the street that they walk to get to school. I know that they don’t have all the access that I do and I can see how I can better teach them and help them.”

In the summer, Rutgers-Camden nursing students will be teaching health and wellness sessions in the CYO’s summer camp.

For Prihoda’s work with the CYO, the organization named her the 2019 CYO Woman of the Year. She will be honored at the CYO Golf Classic event in October.

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