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Turning students into heroes: Required CPR and First Aid course

Betsey Bennett, Staff Writer

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About five years ago, a girl had a seizure during a trip with friends to Paradise Island, Upper Division Physical Education Department Chair Ray Barile. Several students who had completed the school’s cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid course were able to use the skills that they had learned to call the front desk and take control of the situation.

Barile has been teaching the mandatory class ever since Health and Physical Education Director Robert Annunziata approved it as a course about 25 years ago. Prior to that, students only had to take a swimming test, Barile said.

“What we saw initially was an opportunity for students to have a larger contribution to the overall community, and in this particular case, the mindset was safety,” Annunziata said. “We wanted to put our students in a position to save one another, to save a family member, or to save a stranger, and there’s probably no better gift or result of a test or anything than when you hear the stories of somebody coming back who saved someone’s life.”

According to Barile, the school was one of the first in the country to incorporate CPR and first aid into the physical education curriculum. New York State mandated this certification for high school students just two years ago, he said.

All athletic coaches at the school are also trained in CPR and first aid, among many other safety skills, Barile said.

“CPR and first aid is such a great course because it’s something that’s a lifelong skill,” Barile said. “I know many people who have called me over the years to say that their baby was choking and they were able to do the back blows and the object came right out.”

He also recalls an incident about twenty years ago when a student who had taken the school’s CPR and first aid course was able to help someone who had a seizure in the middle of the street.

“She took control of the whole thing,” Barile said. “The New York City Police Department sent a letter to us, saying how great it was that she stepped in, and they were excited that she had learned all the skills at her high school.”

However, according to Barile, this is not the only purpose of the course. He also wants students to learn practical, everyday skills, such as how to use an Epipen and how to treat sprains and strains, he said.

For example, several years ago, a student was skiing with his family when his mother badly twisted her ankle, Barile said.

“It was swollen up, and he came in and iced it and everything,” Barile said. “She was impressed.”

Katie Goldenberg (11), who has a serious shellfish allergy, is glad that the school teaches students how to use Epipens.

“Since I already knew how to use an epipen before I took CPR, learning how to do so in the course did not really make a difference for me, but I guess it’s safer now that people around me know how to use an Epipen as well,” Goldenberg said. “It’s nice to know that other people now know in case of an emergency.”

According to Annunziata, the decision to include water safety as a part of the curriculum was twofold.

“One, if you saw somebody drowning, and you were comfortable around water, you would know what to do to help save that person’s life, even if it means picking up the phone and calling 911,” Annunziata said. “And if you fell into a lake or a pond or a pool and you weren’t a swimmer, you would at least have the very basic skillset to know how to save yourself.”

Although in the past, all students had to pass a swim test, now the focus is on the skill of swimming itself rather than the requirement, Annunziata said. If a student does not know to swim, Aquatics Director Michael Duffy works with that person for several sessions until they feel comfortable in the water.

Sam Harris (12), who took the course during his junior fall, found the class to be both informative and enjoyable, and was proud to receive his certificate in CPR for the Professional Rescuer at the end of the trimester.

“I felt really proud, because all of my work in the class really added up,” Harris said. “So now if anything ever goes wrong, I know how to react.”

Barile’s use of demonstrations and videos enriched the course, Harris said.

“I think having that visual of actually knowing what to do in that scenario rather than just having a manikin was pretty effective,” Harris said.

Harris has not had to use any of the skills that he learned in a real-life setting, but he is confident that he would be able to perform those skills if necessary, he said.

“I think it’s a good course because people should know how to act in an emergency,” Hannah Long (11) said. “Even though it’s annoying because more requirements can seem like a big hassle, being able to do CPR is important, and it’s a super easy course to take.”

Since students have to go to gym anyway, and the course only takes up one trimester, the class is definitely worth the effort, she said.

Richard He (11) is less positive about the requirement.

“I think CPR is important, but you can do it outside of school in a couple of weeks,” He said. “I don’t see why people are doing it during gym.”

For students who play on many athletic teams or take Dance PE, finding time to take the CPR and first aid course can be a challenge.

Cameron Chavers (12), who is in Dance PE, has not yet completed her certification. She plans to take an online course in first aid and attend a CPR class outside of school with other dance students to fulfill the requirement.

“Although it is frustrating with dance that it conflicts with your schedule and with gym, I do understand why they do it separately, because especially when you are in dance performance, where you are doing a lot of shows, it would be really disruptive to have people out for a trimester at a time,” Chavers said. “But it does make it really difficult, especially because you get to senior year and you realize that you have all this stuff to do.”

However, Chavers does believe that the course teaches useful and important life skills.

According to Barile, the department may expand their safety training in the future by offering a lifeguarding course. However, this change would not happen for several years, he said.

“The goal is to make your family and our community a safer environment,” Barile said. “God forbid someone went down, you’d have the knowledge to maybe save a life.”

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Horace Mann's Weekly Newspaper Since 1903
Turning students into heroes: Required CPR and First Aid course