By Jennifer Mauro | Associate Editor
As preschool children spent a late November morning at the CYO East State Street Center sitting around a table with crayons and coloring pictures of fruits and vegetables to encourage healthy eating, others jumped up and down excitedly, waiting to have their height and weight measurements taken by nursing students on hand to help.
“The kids love it – they love the attention,” said Dr. Katherine Prihoda, assistant professor of nursing in Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden, raising her voice to be heard over the 30 young children in the room.
Prihoda and a group of nursing students were present Nov. 21 for the last in a series of health clinics that were provided during the fall. Over the course of two months, CYO and Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden teamed up to provide basic health screenings – including height and weight measurements, vision and hearing tests, and blood-pressure screenings – to the children enrolled in the two CYO preschools in Trenton, the East State Street and South Broad Street Centers.
Thomas Mladenetz, Mercer County CYO executive director, said the screenings and accompanying lessons in personal hygiene and healthy eating were important because they’re a learning tool for both the students and their parents.
“The families we serve are low-income, the majority of whom are single parents. Often, the only time they seek medical assistance is in an emergency,” he said, adding that these parents often use hospitals as a child’s primary source of care.
“We’re dealing with kids who often don’t get the well visits or checkups. So this was great,” he said. “Plus, this teaches children that their day-to-day habits will keep them healthier.”
Prihoda agreed. “This program is community outreach. The community needs to be aware that there are health screening services and that pediatric nursing is not [primarily] in the hospitals.”
Mladenetz said the partnership with Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden is especially important because the CYO schools – like other low-income urban districts, or Abbott Districts – have seen a cut in funding over the years, meaning visits from public health nurses are no more.
“We have to prepare them [children] for kindergarten,” he said, praising the nursing students’ work. “Now when they do get into the public school district, health screenings won’t be new to them.”
Prihoda, who is also the vice chair of the CYO board of trustees, and Mladenetz hope to expand on the health services offered to the CYO in the upcoming year. Prihoda also hopes to secure a grant to perform health checks on site.
“If we start healthy habits when they’re little, we can make a difference in the long run,” she said.
Nursing student Stacee Rodriguez of Merchantville said programs such as this are beneficial for young children because the health screenings are less structured.
“It bridges the gap between health care workers and children to make the little ones not so nervous,” she said.
Nervousness appeared to be the last thing on one preschooler’s mind as CYO group teacher Sharon Collins helped him color a picture of a healthy food plate.
“It’s a fun day for them, and this helps children who can’t get the health services they need,” she said.