Newsletter: Overcoming Obstacles

Overcoming Obstacles is a non-profit educational reform organization that helps at-risk adolescents learn “the communication, decision-making, and goal-setting skills they need to be successful in life.”

In 2006, Overcoming Obstacles needed someone to write and edit its Summer newsletter, which featured stories about the Plainfield, NJ public school system’s adoption of OO’s character education program and about a nursing professor designed a practicum for her upper-level students to teach fifth graders life skills that would help these kids negotiate the pressures they would soon face in middle school.

Original PDF: Overcoming Obstacles Newsletter

Overcoming Obstacles Goes to College

Dr. Margo Governo, an associate professor of nursing at Staten Island’s Wagner College and a clinical nurse practitioner, knows all too well the hazards children and adolescents confront as they ascend from the elementary to the high-school years. For the last 17 years, she has managed an outreach program through Brooklyn’s Coney Island Hospital for students attending Lincoln High School, just across the street from the hospital. Through this program, Dr. Governo has learned first-hand that adolescents struggling in high school are overwhelmed by problems that usually started way before the ninth grade. “These kids were pushed around, frightened, bullied, developed a school attendance phobia, and suffer from depression. Now they’re 19 and still in the 10th grade,” Dr. Governo says.

Mindful of these issues, Dr. Governo designed her upper-level nursing class, “Holistic Dimensions of Mental Health Nursing in the Community,” to teach her undergraduate nursing students all of whom were in their final year and by this time had ample experience performing common nursing tasks as giving injections and taking blood pressure – leadership skills needed to promote a holistic view of health and to anticipate rather than simply react to whatever medical and administrative challenges they may face. To develop these skills, Dr. Governo’s students would lead a series of small semester-long health workshops for the 150 fifth grade students attending PS 45, a public elementary school not far from Wagner College.

Why fifth graders? Explains Dr. Governo: “These kids will be going into intermediate school in the fall. There, they’ll be sixth-graders, the little kids, lowest in the pecking order,” and subject to the same difficulties that still bedevil the high-school students she counsels, such as bullying, using drugs to self-medicate stress, and low self-esteem.

After learning about Overcoming Obstacles through a guidance counselor at Lincoln High School, Dr. Governo purchased the middle-school edition of the Overcoming Obstacles curricula using a grant from Sigma Theta Tau International, an influential group of nurse scholars that advocates nurses reaching out into their communities to identify healthcare needs. Dr. Governo surmised that Overcoming Obstacles’ curriculum, with its emphasis on self-determination and anti-bullying intervention, would help the PS 45 students develop the strength of character necessary to negotiate the myriad pressures they might come up against both in intermediate and high school Matt Damm, director of professional development at Overcoming Obstacles, helped Dr. Governo tailor the program for these fifth-graders.

Dr. Governo plans to continue offering this course for at least the next two years and is conducting a research project that looks into the variables brought about by the innovative pairing of her students with PS 45’s fifth-graders. She is especially interested in demonstrating the impact nurses can have when they concentrate on wellness and problem prevention rather than only diseases and intervention, and syllabi like that provided by Overcoming Obstacles can play a critical role in promoting proactive strategies for whole-body health. “A program like Overcoming Obstacles can reach each child’s ears, brain, heart, and soul,” Dr. Governo says.

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