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ACHE and Fort Smith Public Schools partner to educate fifth-grade students on the health hazards of vaping and e-cigarette use

ACHE and Fort Smith Public Schools are partnering in a campaign designed to educate fifth-grade students on the health hazards of vaping and e-cigarette use.

The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) and Fort Smith Public Schools are partnering in a campaign designed to educate fifth-grade students on the health hazards of vaping and e-cigarette use.  

According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, "Vaping behavior among middle and high school students has been increasing nationally at alarming rates. The spike in e-cigarette use among youth has been called an “epidemic” and “public health crisis” by the US Surgeon General. As of 2019, 27.5% of high school and 10.5% of middle school students vape".

Barry Owen, EdD, Director of Institutional Relations for ACHE stated, “The school district reached out to ACHE in an attempt to mitigate this trend. ACHE is responding by introducing a highly touted anti-vaping campaign called CATCH My Breath™. Our intention is to present this program to fifth graders in an effort to stop the vaping behavior before it begins.”  

According to the CATCH My Breath™ website, CATCH collaborated with researchers at Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health to create CATCH My Breath™, a youth e-cigarette, JUUL, and vape prevention program aimed to grades 5 – 12.  The program resulted in substantially reducing students’ likelihood of vaping in the following year, and a significant increase in knowledge of the dangers of vaping. There was also an increase in positive perceptions about choosing a vape-free lifestyle.

Shanell Gray and Riley Taubert, fourth-year medical students from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) participated in a training program to become certified trainers in the CATCH My Breath™ program. There are plans underway for them to train Fort Smith Public School elementary health and wellness teachers in a pilot program designed to target 5th graders at six elementary campuses in Fort Smith.   

Elizabeth McClain, PhD, Chief Wellness Officer stated “By listening to the community and working together, we can promote health and wellness, using evidence-based approaches. CATCH My Breath™ programming is a great example of this partnership. This public health curriculum supports the Whole Child Model endorsed by the Arkansas Division of Primary and Secondary Education School Health Program. Our partnership with the school district aligns with our ACHE mission and introduces effective public health educational programs to enhance community health literacy and health behaviors."

Dr. Mary Ann Johns, FSPS Director of Elementary Education said, “We believe that one of the best ways to teach a community is to empower its children. We are grateful to the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine for piloting this curriculum and sharing this very important information with students in Fort Smith Public Schools. This instruction will give children the skills they need to make healthy choices.” 

Fifth-grade students at the six schools will have the opportunity to complete a pre-test survey designed to gauge their knowledge of vaping and e-cigarette usage. Students at three of the schools will then be presented with the anti-vaping curriculum. Later in the semester, students at all six schools will take a post-test. The goals of the project will be to determine if the curriculum was effective in shaping student knowledge about vaping and e-cigarette usage for the three elementary schools.  The three schools that received the anti-vaping curriculum will also be compared with the three schools that did not receive the curriculum to compare the two groups' knowledge about vaping and e-cigarette usage.

Research on program effectiveness will be completed and reported to the district at the end of the pilot.  All Fort Smith elementary schools will be introduced to the program curriculum in the fall of 2021.