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Kansas schools find help from experts and each other in Vaping ECHO for Education cohorts

Kansas schools find help from experts and each other in Vaping ECHO for Education cohorts

Using a mix of humor and tough love, Mary Alice Kelly wants young Kansans to know they can stop vaping. 

“I tell them (students) that lung transplants aren’t pleasant,” said Kelly, a nurse at Shawnee Mission North High School. “I also let them know they’re not alone.”

Kelly, the 2022 Kansas School Nurse of the Year, said she observed an increasing number of students at her Overland Park high school vaping around the time of the pandemic. She said she knew something needed to be done beyond suspending the students for vaping at school, which was Shawnee Mission USD 512’s policy at the time. 

“I wanted to quit sending them home,” she said, “because they’d go home and vape.”

Kelly said she started having conversations with these students who told her they didn’t believe they were addicted to vaping. These conversations and gathering additional information led Kelly to join the Vaping ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) for Education pilot cohort made up of 20 Kansas schools in 2021.

The Kansas State Board of Education created a task force in 2019 to address vaping and e-cigarette use among Kansas children. In 2023, the Kansas Legislature passed HB 2269, raising the age to 21 for buying and consuming vaping products.

The creation of the 2021 pilot cohort was prompted in part by data gathered in 2019 by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data that showed a 22% prevalence rate of vaping among Kansas youth 18 years of age and younger. The second cohort had 13 Kansas schools while the third cohort had 24 schools. The application deadline is Aug. 28 for the fourth cohort, which is set to begin this fall for 2024-25 school year. (Click here for the Kansas Health Institute’s Vaping ECHO for Education: Cohort II Evaluation of the Pilot Initiative in Kansas report.)

Kelly said to start addressing the vaping issue at Shawnee Mission North, she assembled a building-level team comprised of herself, a school resource officer, a health teacher, a regular education teacher, a community member, a parent and an assistant principal.

“I was so lucky to have that many people with buy-in for the problem,” she said. “It gave me a lot of motivation to keep going.”

Kelly said the team was eventually able to get district policy shifted to help students with their vaping addiction instead of giving out harsh discipline.

“They need to know that they’re safe and they’re not going to get suspended,” she said.

Kelly credits the students in Shawnee Mission North’s chapter of Resist for being part of the solution for bringing more awareness about the negative effects of vaping and tobacco.

According to Resist’s website, the statewide, student organization “advocates for the de-normalization of tobacco use among Kansas’ youth and unites communities to create one voice to stand up against the tobacco industry.”

Dr. Robyn Kelso, the Kansas State Department of Education’s liaison to the Vaping ECHO for Education hub team, said one of the most important aspects of how the ECHO process is structured is that it is “very driven by what schools need” and there is “an immediate support network” because each cohort within the ECHO is designed to partner up districts of similar sizes with similar concerns.

Kelso said each cohort is comprised of five sessions that include presentations from pediatricians, school resource officers and “those who are really doing the front line work around vaping and tobacco.”

“Having those experts readily available for schools to not only hear and learn, there’s also a question-and-answer time for those districts,” she said. “It’s a chance for those districts to really dig in and work with these experts on the tobacco-vaping issue that they wouldn’t normally have.” 

In the 18 months she has been part of the Vaping ECHO for Education, Kelso said the capacity-building of the schools to address vaping “has just blossomed.”

“Because they do have access to these experts,” she said. “Particularly for these smaller districts who may not even have a town doctor, much less a pediatrician that specializes in tobacco. It becomes a huge pool of resources for those districts.”

In the meantime, Kelly said she encourages school districts thinking about participating in the fourth or future cohorts to get involved because “the problem (of vaping) isn’t going away.”

“It’s going to create a generation of kids that will have severe lung injuries,” she said. “I just hope we can stop it.”

The Vaping ECHO for Education hub team is comprised of representatives from the Kansas State Department of Education, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Masonic Cancer Alliance, University of Kansas Medical Center, University of Kansas Cancer Center, Children’s Mercy Kansas City, Kansas Health Institute, Kansas Association of School Boards, DCCCA and Kansas State Nurses Association.

Posted: Jun 20, 2024,
Comments: 0,
Tags: KSBE , Vaping

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