A concussion awareness program developed for the Halton District School Board has received international attention in a feature article in the weekend New York Times. The article appeared at a time when sports-related concussions at both the professional and amateur level are becoming an increasingly hot topic. Called the Halton Student Concussion Education Project, the Halton Board and Dr. Paul Echlin, an expert on traumatic brain injury, partnered to create a self-directed educational program, complete with teaching and training modules, designed to show staff and students the dangers of concussions and how to identify, prevent and treat them. Starting in September 2014, Grade 9 students began concussion study as part of their high school curriculum. The program had been piloted first with various students last term including those in Grade 6.
Teacher Andrea Cavaco’s Grade 6 class at Emily Carr Public School in Oakville was among the test group. The program included watching short videos about concussions, making posters educating other elementary students about the potential signs and symptoms of a concussion, and discussions about having a suspected concussion even though a person says he or she feels fine.
“We created public service announcements aimed at educating others about how to respond to the various challenges that can come with being diagnosed with a concussion. They included how to handle possible learning challenges that might occur when returning to school, the signs and symptoms to watch for during a worsening concussion and what should be done when you suspect a friend, classmate or teammate has a concussion,” Cavaco said. “Students were fully engaged in telling their experiences to their classmates and in evaluating the individual responses to the situations based on their new learning. Students have been eager to learn about the physical signs and symptoms of a concussion and emotional and cognitive components that can often be misunderstood.”
In the New York Times article that appeared on the front page of the Times October 5th Sports Sunday section journalist Jeff Z. Klein compared the Halton program to some of the programs now operating in the United States; noting that concussion awareness at some schools consists of handing out a fact sheet at the beginning of the year.
According to Cavaco and students, concussion education has been an enlightening experience.
Student Joudi Abumarasa said she has learned concussions are permanent and need to be taken seriously, and can happen in many instances like playing in the school playground or slipping while walking home. Symptoms can include vomiting, blurred vision or memory loss, she added.
“We are learning about concussions to keep us safe,” she said, stressing helmets don’t necessarily protect a person from sustaining a head injury. “If you hit your head and think you have a concussion, you have to tell an adult or your parents.”
The Halton District School Board began the process of investigating concussion education two years ago. Joanne Walsh, the Board’s Instructional Program Leader with responsibility for Secondary Health and Physical Education, Safety, and Secondary Athletics, attended an international summit on concussions in the fall of 2012 and met Dr. Echlin. They talked about a shared desire for younger students to learn about concussion prevention and intervention. Specifically, they felt younger people needed to advocate for their health and that a kind of ‘culture change’ had to happen in which concussions needed to be taken more seriously at all age levels.
“We felt youth needed to have a deeper awareness of the seriousness of concussions and understand that it’s a brain injury and there could be lifelong consequences for them if the injury was not appropriately treated,” Walsh said. “This would lead to their own self-advocacy in being honest about having symptoms after sustaining a hit during play in the case of a sport, or during physical activity like skateboarding and sustaining an impact that could result in brain trauma.”
Dr. Echlin began to work on an online instruction unit research project with the University of Western Ontario, Walsh explained. Halton District School Board research staff and other teachers helped craft parameters to establish how concussion instruction would work in the classroom, specifically linking it to the provincial Health and Physical Education curriculum.
Dr. Echlin says educating kids about concussions is the first step in solving the problem.
“Concussion education for our children is an essential foundation required to create a cultural shift among our next generation of students, athletes, coaches and parents,” he said. “As the concussion education program rolls out with Grade 9 students the Halton District School Board is already looking further ahead by crafting a Grade 3 learning module.