CVS Health Foundation Grant Opens Up New Opportunities for Students

by Nicole Fitzsimmons & Nicole Rodriguez, Asst. News Editor & Asst. Production Editor

The kinesiology department at Manhattan College has recently received a grant from the CVS Health Foundation to implement their new CATCH My Breath program, targeted at e-cigarette prevention. This grant will help MC further its initiative to promote public health and will train students to take greater action.

Manhattan College is collaborating with Springfield College, Plymouth University,  the Sage Colleges and Monmouth College to put the program into effect. The goal of these colleges is to collect data regarding the impact of program on student’s learning through the 2019-2020 academic year. Thereafter, the data will be shared with the CVS Health Foundation to see the impact the program actually has on the usage of e-cigarettes.

At Manhattan, the primary researchers in the grant are Christie Gonzalez-Toro, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology, Shawn Ladda, Ed.D., professor of kinesiology and Tekeyah Sears, Ed.D., program director of allied health and radiological and health professions.

CATCH is an acronym that stands for Coordinated Approach to Child Health, which applies to the manner in which students from the 5th to the 12th grade are being educated through classroom lessons, peer-led activities, assessments and social and community support about the dangers of vaping and e-cigarette use.

The plan for action begins right in the classrooms of MC, with students beginning to receive training on how to effectively teach the younger generation about the dangers of e-cigarette use. Students enrolled in the Physical Education Teacher Preparation Program will receive CATCH My Breath training to teach in local schools.

“Prior to participating, 5th to 12th grade students will complete a survey measuring their attitudes and behaviors toward e-cigarettes, then will retake the survey one week after completing the program to measure its impact,” said Christie Gonzalez-Toro, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology.

Student-teachers have already started heading to schools to raise awareness about the dangers of e-cigarette use and to help students make healthy decisions.

“For example, my son is in a school up in the suburbs, and one of our students, without me knowing it, came in and implemented the grant. He came back and said it was great. He had all these facts about vaping and the reasons not to vape, but it was actually very interesting to hear his perspective. He thought it was a great program,” said Jeff Cherubini, Ph.D., department chair of kinesiology.

Students being able to go into schools and talk to children about serious problems in the community is a different approach to the standard student-teacher process and is also a very unique opportunity for MC students. Cherubini highlights the fact that it allows physical education majors and students in the department to teach health related topics that are outside of what they are normally doing and giving them an opportunity to learn more about health and health education.

One of the obvious main goals of this program is to help kids make healthy decisions and to combat the serious problem that has risen, especially in recent years. For students in the 5th to 12th grade, e-cigarette use is growing each day, including the use of Juul products, and the department hopes that this will diminish the amount of students that are using these kinds of vaping products. With the influences of pressure from peers, social media and easy accessibility to products, teaching students about healthy choices can make a difference in being different than what they are usually exposed to.

“Children and youth deserve quality education, educating them about making healthy choices emphasis the Lasallian commitment to social justice,” said Gonzalez-Toro.

The CATCH My Breath program will also play a role in expanding Manhattan College’s commitment towards raising awareness about public health. With the recent introduction of the new public health major offered in the School of Education and Health beginning in the fall of 2020, the program will benefit the central mission of the department to protect and promote the health and wellness of all people.

“Public health is characterized a lot by learning new knowledge,” said Cherubini. “So, we’re going to be having a lot of students learning new knowledge. But, what is also a big part of public health is translating that knowledge into action. So this is great for our students and for our future students to be able to actually take the stuff that we’re learning in the classroom and then applying it out in the schools.”

Cherubini also also mentioned that the program will help implement one of the main pillars are public health, which is health promotion and health education.

“The World Health Organization has principles of health promotion, and part of those principles are empowerment, inclusion and collaboration. It’s really to promote positive health and our students are able to really step in and implement empowerment and collaboration and promote positive health,” he said.

The data collected will quantify the impact that the program has on e-cigarette use, and hopefully on top of the importance of the collaborative nature of the students and the teachers, it will actually help diminish the growing issue.

“The goal of public health is to focus on prevention as opposed to focusing on a response. These new programs and grants will hopefully teach students of all ages the repercussions that come along with e-cigarettes, before they even feel the urge to try it. I think this is especially important because at the end of the day, we really don’t know how e-cigarettes will affect us 50 years down the road. So while you might not see any negative effects at the moment, you can’t exactly predict what’s to come,” said freshmen public health major, Ali James.

James has already formally declared her major as public health, but the program will not be official until next fall. She believes that the CVS Health Foundation Grant and the CATCH My Breath program will help advance the public health sector at Manhattan College.

While the public health major is still growing at MC, programs like this are helping to expand the recognition of the importance in youth education about the dangers of certain trends in today’s society. The MC kinesiology department and the principal researchers are hoping to see beneficial results to this method of awareness for both the student-teachers and especially for the students attending school in surrounding areas.

“On a department level, the grant applies and connects to our mission, which is to emphasize the positive impact of physical activity and health on society and quality of life. It’s going to help our students disseminate knowledge in terms of health education. It allows our students to engage in community service and it will help prepare them as competent professionals,” said Cherubini.