When University of Lethbridge nursing instructor Kathy Haight took on the task of reinvigorating stale and dated tobacco prevention resources for her nursing students, she had no idea it would turn into a provincial initiative that would eventually launch the Academy for Tobacco Prevention.
Alberta Health Services officially unveiled The Academy today as a partnership developed with the U of L out of the Tobacco Reduction Program. The thrust of the initiative is to provide teachers with a comprehensive resource for students in Grades 4 to 6 to help them understand the risks of tobacco use and learn ways to resist pressure to use such products.
“The resources that I was using to teach my students were developed in 2003, so they were very dated,” says Haight of the genesis of the project. “So much happens in the tobacco industry in terms of both the production of tobacco products and also the legislation associated with their use. The print-based resources were really outdated and when we talk to nursing students about having current evidence, it was a contradiction to be using these resources.”
So she set out to make them current, interactive and digital. In the end, the lessons and resources they created went far beyond anything she could have imagined, including the interactive card game, Shadows of the Academy, that is right out of Hollywood.
How Haight and AHS got to this point required multiple partners along the way, including multidisciplinary work on campus with the Faculty of Education and Faculty of Fine Arts (new media), as well as collaborative work with Lethbridge School District 51 students and teachers.
Before the resources hit the classroom, Haight had to enlist the services of Tanaka Mutikani, a new media student intern, to translate the complex graphical imagery into the lessons.
“He was amazing for the project. He really bridged between the technology and the application,” she says. “For Tanaka, it was a really sharp learning curve, working with assets from a professional marketing company, learning new software, and he had all the skills and then some to make this work for us.”
She then took the resources to the school district for a test run.
“The contribution that SD 51 made to this project has been priceless,” says Haight. “Combining their teacher expertise with my health education knowledge we were able to come to some real common ground on what would work for teachers in the classroom.”
Haight and her group rolled out the program in Grade 4 and 5 classrooms at Nicholas Sheran, Dr. Gerald B. Probe and Senator Buchanan schools, while nursing instructors were also able to reach St. Mary’s and St. Martha’s schools. A Grade 6 classroom at G.S. Lakie also served in a pilot scenario.
“It really had to meet teacher needs in the classroom and the way to get to that point was to have them in a focus group,” says Haight.
The most popular of the resources was the card game. It proved to not only capture kids’ attention but also seemed to drive home some key prevention messages.
“We know from our pilot testing that students think The Academy is super cool and teachers think it’s really cool too but in amongst all that flash, is there some substance to it, will it actually help to reduce the use of tobacco in our youth population in Alberta,” asks Haight.
Therein lies the next phase of the project. Once the resources are rolled out province wide, she will work with Dr. Noella Piquette of the Faculty of Education to go back into classrooms to gauge their effectiveness.
“We can provide teachers with health education resources but we have an obligation to test those resources to see if they are making a positive impact,” she says. “Teacher time in the classroom is very valuable so we want to give them the best bang for their buck.”