Thoughts on the National Environmental Health Association Conference

Arriving in Orlando in July was not as exciting as had it been back in January when Boston was overshadowed by glittering white banks of snow looming up over our heads. Nevertheless, it was exciting to arrive at the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) conference alongside Gretchen Latowsky to join colleagues from as far away as Nigeria and as close as the water quality managers who oversee Sea World whose attractions were temptingly visible across the street.

Prior to arriving, we had been able to see from the conference’s innovative social networking platform that several had signed up for our session, including a past President of NEHA. All told over 75 people came to learn about how to advance environmental justice through the opportunity afforded by adult basic education and English for speakers of other languages classrooms. We shared our approach to designing lessons on asthma tailored to the needs of students and ABE teachers, and the results from pilot-testing in VT and NH classrooms. The pilots demonstrated improvements in knowledge and awareness among students while garnering helpful suggestions for tailoring the lessons to different learning levels. As a learning lab, participants were engaged in honing their own set of key messages and brainstorming sample classroom and take-home activities intended to increase environmental health literacy and resident leadership on a variety of topics. They came up with ideas we are eager to put to use in designing new lessons to potentially address occupational exposures, lead poisoning, dangerous cleaning products, pest control, autobody repair, and sanitation. One suggestion was to compile a series of photographs that could be used to identify potential lead hazards that students could then use as a launching point for research projects or to generate story-telling about the impacts of environmental health on individuals or their family members.

Sessions touched upon how HUD and partners from the American Lung Association and housing associations are advancing smoke-free housing initiatives that are spreading like wildfire across the country. An enthusiastic Manager of elderly housing complexes in Florida described the many benefits to residents and their company of such policies as they were surprised to find even residents who are smokers prefer to live in smoke-free units. While disappointed we had missed out on rooms at the convention site, we were compensated that evening by staying in a much more modest locale that was filled to the brim with children gleefully eating their Mickey Mouse waffles and eagerly awaiting their special adventures.

Project information: Learners Take Action: Reducing Asthma Disparities through Adult Basic Education

Lesson Plans: Three lessons were designed on asthma and healthy homes. Teacher Instructions, Introduction, and Student Worksheets:

Lesson 1:  What is asthma? How asthma affects health

Lesson 2: What causes asthma? Identifying asthma triggers

Lesson 3: What can you do about asthma? Taking action