Promoting health at schools

Nurse Thanya Petersen and Zwaanswyk Academy principal Anthony Adams.

The Health Promoting Schools (HPS) initiative has been around for 21 years, and on Wednesday November 2, a party was held at a Retreat school to mark the occasion.

Western Cape Health Department set up HPS in 1995 and partnered with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to include it in the school curriculum. Staff are assigned to certain schools and make scheduled
visits.

Thanya Petersen, school nurse for the Wynberg and Plumstead district, has been involved with HPS for almost a decade. “We render a primary health service with-
in the school setting where the aim is to keep the child healthy at school so that they can learn and not be absent because of ill-
nesses.

“We not only look at curative services but also preventative service and try and instil things that prevent illness and disease and focus on the entire school and empower schools to create a healthy community,” said Ms Petersen.

School nurses focus on things like hand washing and deworming while HPS also helps schools with other issues, such as drugs, teenage pregnancy and under- or malnutrition. Teachers work with HPS to set up priority programmes for the year. For instance, children at Levana Primary School were briefed by school nurse Cheryl Adams about cancer last month during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

HPS also runs anti-bullying programmes. “We’ve discovered that bullying is a major issue at schools, so we’re doing more focused programmes by getting speakers in and strategising on how the school can deal with bullying at schools and how to develop policies around the issue,” said Ms Petersen.

“We look at the well-being of the teacher, pupils, parents and the community. It’s a holistic approach to the well-being of the entire school community.”

She said it was impossible to measure the impact of HPS, but it was “massive”.

Sister Adams, nurse to 23 schools in Lavender Hill, Steenberg, Retreat and Heathfield, said there were many social and health issues in the communities she served but she had support from “enthusiastic and motivated” teachers.

“For example, despite the violence, shootings and gangsterism in Lavender Hill, the schools have still carried on with their health-promotion programmes. Together with the teachers, we hope to create healthier, strong communities.”

She has been with the programme since it started. “I hope HPS continues to grow and that we reach even more schools, especially high schools,” she said.

Zwaanswyk Academy hosted last week’s celebration. The school’s principal, Anthony Adams, said: “It’s wonderful to have health services for our pupils at the school, and they are very helpful in terms of support. The HPS staff are willing and passionate, and thousands of children have been touched by their presence.

“They’ve done incredible work so far, and I hope they grow from strength to strength.”