Port Chester schools: a breath of fresh air
Sen. Gillibrand commends PCSD, announces funds to create asthma management plans

Standing in the Port Chester Middle School library on Monday, Jan. 11, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announces federal funding for schools to implement asthma management plans. Gillibrand is joined by Port Chester eighth graders Jonathan Cisneros and Mariana Gudino, who both have asthma, Dr. Allen Dozor from Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus, Jr.Claire K. Racine|Westmore News

Standing in the Port Chester Middle School library on Monday, Jan. 11, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announces federal funding for schools to implement asthma management plans. Gillibrand is joined by Port Chester eighth graders Jonathan Cisneros and Mariana Gudino, who both have asthma, Dr. Allen Dozor from Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus, Jr.

Claire K. Racine|Westmore News

By Claire K. Racine
Reporter

When touting new federal funding for schools to implement asthma management plans, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand did not set up her podium and microphone in a district that desperately needs the money to develop policies and procedures. Instead, the senator announced the $1.65 billion in federal aid in a district others should seek to emulate: the Port Chester School District. 

"I know exactly what it feels like to get that phone call that your son can't breathe," Gillibrand said standing in the Port Chester Middle School library on Monday, Jan. 11. 

The senator's son Theo has asthma and she had to go through that specific parent nightmare as recently as last year. 

"There was no one at his school that understood what kind of medicine a child needs during an attack," she said. 

Theo ended up in the emergency room, something that should not be required in today's day and age as long as schools have a plan in place to handle similar situations, the senator explained. Many school districts, however, do not have the resources to develop those policies, hence the need for federal funding like the money for the School Asthma Management Plan Act set aside in the national education bill recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. 

In New York, "nearly one in 11 children suffer from asthma," Gillibrand said, adding that it is more common in low-income communities. 

"Fifty years ago asthma was rare. Now it's an epidemic," said Dr. Allen Dozor. 

Dozor, who appeared with Gillibrand, serves as the chief of Pediatric Pulmonology, Allergy and Sleep Medicine and as the director of the American Lung Association-supported Asthma Clinical Research Center at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital. At any given time, there are about a dozen children hospitalized at Maria Fareri for asthma. "When I left there, there were four children in the emergency room gasping for breath," he said. 

Since asthma is often triggered in school, teaching staff and school nurses how to handle the situation is essential, the doctor added. 

Emulating Port Chester

About eight years ago, the Port Chester schools got the opportunity to put an asthma management plan in place just like the onesGillibrand hopes other districts will implement. 

Port Chester receives federal funds for its school-based health centers run by Open Door Family Medical Centers. When the American Lung Association's Hudson Valley Asthma Coalition offered to fund the development of an asthma management plan, the school district and Open Door quickly agreed. They piloted the program at the middle school before expanding throughout the district. Since its implementation in 2008, student absences due to asthma have declined significantly, as have acute care visits. 

"Effectively managing student health has helped our students dramatically in improving their school attendance and achievement," said Port Chester Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus, Jr. "Working with Open Door medical centers, we have been able to mitigate a significant barrier to student success. Wraparound services that include medical support are key to a true community school model that we have adopted here in Port Chester."

Without Port Chester's initial partnership with Open Door, the asthma plan would never have had a chance in the district. U.S. Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who also attended the press conference, was instrumental in establishing the school-based health centers and creating community schools in the district. 

"It was a major fight," Lowey said, but "the community service school program is still alive and well."

Students see results

The congresswoman threw her support behind the School Asthma Management Plan Act. "No student should have to worry that an asthma attack will lessen their school days or lower their ability to participate," Lowey said. 

"It's really important to have those resources in school," agreed Lindsay Farrell, the president and CEO of Open Door. The difference is evident in the Port Chester School District since they put in place the management plan. "Port Chester has lower hospitalization rates than other very affluent communities," she added. 

Eighth grader Jonathan Cisneros often had to visit the hospital for his asthma as a child, but he has not had to go to the emergency room in about five years and credits the assistance Open Door has given him. "I feel almost as if I don't have asthma," he said. 

Cisneros' fellow eighth grader Mariana Gudino also has asthma. Even when their asthma doesn't flare up, Open Door still calls them in to the school-based health center once a month to touch base. The nurse has their medicine filled and ready just in case they do ever need it at school. This means they do not have to worry about it, Gudino said. 

Other schools can put in place similar programs through the funding in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. Of the $1.65 billion, about $125 million has been set aside for New York schools.


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