Today, one of our children asked me when the nurses are coming back. It’s been almost a month since students from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing came to offer healthy living programs at our Southwest Philadelphia library, and the kids are still asking when they’ll be coming back. For seven weeks, four students were embedded in our library as a part of their community nursing course. They offered 11 free healthy living programs for adults and children at our library on a variety of topics including eating healthy, getting enough exercise and controlling asthma.
I’m always looking for new programming ideas to keep our kids busy. Most of the children who visit our library during the summer come by themselves and stay for most of the day. Many live below the poverty line and are new Americans, and I see far too many young children stay through lunch, waiting for the occasional summertime snacks we can provide thanks to generous donations from local companies. This opportunity to work with nursing students seemed like a cool and creative way to link our kids not only to solid information, but to a wider world of caring, professional adults.
Ms. Kayce, Ms. Linda, Ms. Chi and Ms. Marissa (as they became known to the kids) planned and carried out original, energetic, playful evidence-based health programs that I never would have been able to prepare on my own. During “Chop! Chop! Making Healthy Choices (& Snacks),” children learned about how to eat healthy while coloring and playing nutrition bingo. During storytime, Ms. Linda read Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story as the kids happily munched away on popcorn, carrot sticks and fresh watermelon. “Moving and Grooving: Fitness for Kids” brought us out into the library’s yard for field games, line dancing and an adorably clumsy cha-cha slide. We cooled down inside after the games and even got to livestream a bit of the U.S.-Germany World Cup match.
I really loved hosting the nurses and finding ways to link their programming with our library’s resources. I helped them find stories to read aloud, like Soccer Star and Brianna Breathes Easy and other children’s books to help them plan their programs.
Kids had an incentive to participate in the programming because they could earn points for their summer reading game. Creating special book displays for the programs helped me connect kids with resources like Diabetes and Me and What the World Eats mere moments after they were engaged in learning about the topic.
I knew that this learning opportunity would be fun for our students. But I learned later from the nursing students’ final presentation that since environmental and behavioral factors are stronger determinants of health than good genes and access to medical care, these kinds of prevention and wellness programs are some of the best ways to keep people healthy. It helps that kids can come to programs for free at the library — the educational and community center where they already feel at home.
I din’t have to forge this relationship with the University of Pennsylvania by myself. Our director, Siobhan Reardon, and the school’s then dean, Afaf Meleis, worked together to establish the collaboration. I volunteered our neighborhood library as a location for this first pilot program. We’ll be meeting with faculty and students to reflect on the partnership and plan future programs. Working with the nursing students has been an exciting and mutually beneficial way to provide programming for our patrons while increasing awareness around major health issues. Most importantly, our kids got to spend time with a great group of patient adults who could answer their health questions and take the time to listen to their stories. I can’t wait until I can tell our kids the nurses will be coming back.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Jamie Bowers is a children’s librarian at Paschalville Library in Philadelphia.