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Youngsters learn about aging (9/8/97)

"Life is a marathon, not a sprint," says former seventh grade teacher Linda Pruski, who works full-time now training teachers to talk to their students about aging.

Ms. Pruski works with "Positively Aging," a partnership among the Northside Independent School District (NISD), The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, its Aging Research and Education Center (AREC) and the San Antonio community. The AREC has been awarded a new three-year, $714,000 Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) by the National Institutes of Health to continue the ongoing program.

For the past five years, middle and high school teachers from NISD have spent their summers working with the AREC faculty to develop classroom- ready teaching materials for their students. The focus of the "Positively Aging" curriculum is to help young students better understand the aging process and make healthy lifestyle choices. This knowledge is designed to enable adolescents to make informed decisions for extending and enhancing their own lives. Importantly, "Positively Aging" also helps students be more sensitive to the needs and concerns of the aging population--the program seeks to cross the generations.

"The SEPA grant will allow us to test the effectiveness of the "Positively Aging" teaching material," said Michael Lichtenstein, MD, associate professor, geriatrics, department of medicine, and South Texas Veterans Health Care System Medical Director for the Home-Based Primary Care Program. "We are using examples from the fields of gerontology to improve math and science education. It's exciting for me as a traditionally trained physician and researcher to be involved with this novel program that ties together the Health Science Center, AREC, the public schools, and the community."

Dr. Lichtenstein and Carolyn Marshall, PhD, coordinators for "Positively Aging," have been working on the program for the past five years. The Health Science Center donated time and resources to develop the curriculum. Dr. Marshall is community/clinical education coordinator for the South Texas geriatric education center and community education specialist for AREC. "Ten UT faculty have opened up their labs and made themselves available to the teachers each summer. The creative sparks from these interactions are what make "Positively Aging" so much fun," said Dr. Marshall.

Twelve school teachers from Anson Jones Middle School and Clark High School in NISD, led by Ms. Pruski, have contributed to the writing process. After 20 years as a seventh grade science teacher, Ms. Pruski joined the AREC to work full time on "Positively Aging." "This project has been so enriching for all the teachers. We have learned more about ourselves and our families as we created these lessons."

"The reason we chose middle school students for the 'Positively Aging' program is because their lives parallel the elderly in a significant way," says Dr. Lichtenstein. Middle school students are at the cusp of their independence. They are looking forward to driving and being more on their own. They are working toward their independence, while on the other end of the life span, the elderly are struggling to maintain their independence. We think society looks at these two groups through similar eyes."

Prior to the NIH grant, the AREC depended on private donations from the Scott Petty Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Herndon, Mr. and Mrs. George C. Hixon, the SBC Foundation, the San Antonio Area Foundation, Genentech and RAYCO (now Kaufman Broad). "The community support for 'Positively Aging' has been very gratifying. Their faith and vision enabled us to become competitive for educational research funds at the national level," said Dr. Lichtenstein. " 'Positively Aging' represents a true educational partnership between the Health Science Center, the public schools and the San Antonio community."

Contact: Myong Covert (210) 567-2570