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Polk County Students Learn How to Prepare for Disaster

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“When I get home I’m going to tell my mom we should have a plan." said fifth grader Taysia Young

You never know when disaster might strike. 

The American Red Cross of Central Iowa teamed up with Mercy College of Health Sciences to teach nearly 2,000 children between the ages of 8-11 in Johnston and Des Moines how to prepare for disasters.

“The program was created with this age group in mind,” said Chrissy Bristle, disaster program specialist for the Red Cross. “They are the most likely to go home and talk to their families about being prepared.” 

The Pillowcase Project, sponsored by Disney, is a nationwide program that focuses on preparing children for disasters. Third, fourth and fifth graders learn about hazards in their communities, how to prepare for emergencies, enhance their coping skills, practice what they have learned and share their knowledge with friends and family. 

Through the program, the Iowa Region of the Red Cross wants to reach at least 5,000 students across the state and thanks to the partnership with Mercy College of Health Sciences, 40 percent of that goal is being met with the help nursing students.

Staff and faculty from Mercy College’s School of Nursing worked with closely with the Red Cross to find real community and clinical experiences for students in the 3-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, and adjusted the Mercy College BSN community health curriculum to align with the Healthy People 2020 (U.S. DHHS, 2011) goal of optimizing population health through preparedness education, while meeting the standards set forth by the American Association College of Schools of Nursing.

Mercy College’s School of Nursing is the first in the nation to implement this project as a clinical experience with the Red Cross and it will serve as a prototype for other BSN programs from coast to coast.

The Pillowcase Project sessions being taught in Johnston and Des Moines elementary schools focus on home fires, the most common disaster across the nation, and a second disaster.  Because the kids live in Iowa, the classes cover winter weather hazards and tornado preparedness. 

“I know more than I used to know about being prepared,” said Layla Martinez, a Monroe Elementary School fifth grader after going through The Pillowcase Project.

“I think the most important thing I learned is if there is a fire you should have a plan to get out in less than two minutes,” Joslynn McCormick said.

After completing the program, the kids receive a pillowcase featuring Disney characters and they are encouraged to decorate it and use as an emergency kit. During the class they learn which items they may want or need during an emergency. 

They also receive a workbook to help them talk about what they learned at home.

“When I get home I’m going to tell my mom we should have a plan [in case of emergency] because we don’t have a plan at my house,” said Taysia Young, a fifth grade student from Monroe Elementary. “I am going to tell my mom that we need to test the smoke detectors.”

As of February 2016, the students from Mercy College have presented at four elementary schools, and three more schools are on the schedule. The program is being taught in all Johnston Elementary Schools and at Lovejoy and Monroe Elementary schools in Des Moines. 

“I am glad we had this class because it helps us,” Young said. “If we didn’t have it we wouldn’t be so prepared.”