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Hawaii News

University of Hawaii study facilitates model for safe school reopenings

                                <strong>“It is wonderful to see this collaboration between physicians, educators and social scientists, and our PAAC interdisciplinary experts.”</strong>
                                <strong>Jerris Hedges</strong>
                                <em>Dean of JABSOM</em>
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“It is wonderful to see this collaboration between physicians, educators and social scientists, and our PAAC interdisciplinary experts.”

Jerris Hedges

Dean of JABSOM

As K-12 schools around the state prepare to transition back to in-person learning, a group of educators is developing a community­-based model to facilitate the return safely.

The project organizers are inviting grade 6-12 teachers at public, private and charter schools to test the project’s curriculum, which educates teachers on topics like the history of infectious diseases in Hawaii and the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. Participating teachers receive a $25 gift card. Interested teachers can also become COVID-19 certified educators, earning up to $200 after completing the four-module curriculum and passing quizzes.

About 87% of participants in a pilot project reported that their participation led to a better understanding of the need for COVID-19 antigen testing, and 52% were more likely to get vaccinated as a result of the program.

Three schools within the University of Hawaii at Manoa — the John A. Burns School of Medicine, College of Social Sciences and College of Education — partnered with the Accountable Healthcare Alliance of Rural Oahu to conduct the pilot project, which concluded in late May.

The Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19 project partnered with the state Department of Health and the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center to implement the program at Kamaile Academy, an Oahu charter school serving a mainly Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population.

About 80% of the 120 teachers and staff members at Kamaile Academy volunteered to undergo free rapid antigen testing beginning in March until late May. The participants received nasal swab tests, many being tested more than once.

“This pilot testing is invaluable as schools are poised to reopen this fall,” said Jerris Hedges, dean of JABSOM, in a release in mid-June. “It is wonderful to see this collaboration between physicians, educators and social scientists, and our PAAC interdisciplinary experts. They are all working together to keep our communities safe, especially those that have been hardest­-hit by COVID-19.”

The NHPI community, exacerbated by preexisting disparities in social and financial circumstances, continues to be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent data from the Department of Health shows that the Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino communities have the highest percentages of COVID-19 cases in the state at 20% each.

“The results of the pilot are excellent and truly reflect the rapport that the team built with Kamaile Academy participants,” said Ruben Juarez, PAAC project co-lead, professor of economics and research fellow with the UH Economic Research Organization. “This is important given the disproportionate adverse impacts of COVID-19 on NHPI communities coupled with pervasive vaccine hesitancy.”

“The central role of teachers and schools in the lives of children supports place-based, culturally sustaining teaching and learning,” said Pauline Chinn, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum Studies, in the release.

The PAAC Team plans to expand its project throughout the state, including to neighbor islands.

“We have witnessed firsthand the impact of COVID- 19 on Hawaii’s rural and economically disadvantaged communities,” said May Okihiro, project co-lead and associate professor of pediatrics at JABSOM, in the release. “Our community health centers and schools have risen to the challenge with a response that is amazing, creative and energetic.”

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