UTPA trains fourth-grade students to educate families about diabetes
Posted: 03/22/2013
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Fourth-grade students at De Escandon Elementary School received some training from dinosaurs on how to educate their families about the risks associated with diabetes.

MSN students Sara Ostrem and Daniel Rodriguez, who are registered nurses, talk about the risk factors related to diabetes to students at De Escandon Elementary School in Edinburg as part of the Student Enrollment and Education Program at UTPA's Border Health Office.

On Thursday, March 21, representatives from The University of Texas-Pan American Border Health Office (BHO), as well as two registered nurses who are graduate students at UTPA, visited the campus to teach the students about the causes and symptoms of diabetes. Part of their lesson included a video with cartoon dinosaurs to explain the risk factors associated with the disease, which is prevalent in the Rio Grande Valley.

The visit is part of the BHO's Student Enrollment and Education Program (SEEP), which educates elementary school students about the risk factors and complications from diabetes.

The program targets fourth-grade students because children at that age are able to understand and absorb the message and relate the information back to their families, said Doreen D. Garza, executive director of the BHO.

Garza said her office has received feedback from families that have benefitted from the program throughout the years.

"For us it makes it all worthwhile," she said.

Fourth-grade students Rachel Ruiz and James Canning said they enjoyed the presentation and have been trying to live healthier lifestyles.

"I liked how instead of using people they used dinosaurs," Ruiz said about the video.

Canning said he knew many of the things discussed during the presentation because he has a relative who has diabetes, but appreciated having the nurses tell him and other students about the disease and show the video.

"It was funny," Canning said.

The BHO established the Diabetes Registry Project in 1995 to address diabetes and its prevalence in the Valley and created SEEP around 1997 in hopes that students share what they learned with their families.

Budget cuts in 2010 forced the BHO to discontinue the SEEP, but in November 2012, Lacks Furniture committed to support the program by contributing $25,000 each year for the next five years.

This time, the BHO - which is now housed in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services - has partnered with the college's Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, allowing students in the MSN program teach the lessons to the students.

The SEEP resumed in March, and representatives from the BHO and the MSN program plan to reach more than 17,000 students in 14 school districts throughout the Valley, organizers said.

"There is still so much of a need for information," Garza said. "People are hungry for information."

Dr. John Price, human resource director for Lacks, visited the school to see the presentation and said he was impressed with the program.

"It's Mr. (Lee) Aaronson (owner and CEO of Lacks) and his sisters, it's their goal for Lacks to be an active participant in the life of the community and, because of the very severe need in the community for this very thing, they are very proud to be participants," Price said.

The two registered nurses who conducted the lesson, Sara Ostrem, who works at McAllen Heart Hospital, and Daniel Rodriguez, who works for Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco, said they see the complications resulting from diabetes often in their jobs. To have the opportunity to teach children how to prevent the disease and how to manage their health if diagnosed with diabetes is rewarding, they said.

"They're our future and maybe through them, hopefully, we can decrease the incidence of diabetes or at least decrease the incidence of complications from diabetes," Ostrem said.

Rodriguez said that current studies show an increase in the number of cases of diabetes and that he too hopes educational programs like SEEP will help reverse that trend.

"What we need to do is get the students when they're young like this and empower them to put forth the information to their parents," he said.

For more information about the Border Health Office, visit