Kentucky has implemented a variety of initiatives in recent years aimed at improving college and career readiness, but a new requirement this school year will also help prepare students for medical emergencies.
The commonwealth has joined a long list of states that require schools to provide students with basic CPR training prior to graduation. The new legislation takes effect statewide this school year, but the majority of schools here in Northern Kentucky are way ahead of the curve.
"It's something we have been doing for several years," Campbell County High School Principal Adam Ritter said. "Our students take Health their sophomore year, and CPR training is part of the curriculum."
Campbell County High School also takes its training a step further and provides students with CPR certification. Both of the school's health teachers are certified CPR instructors, he said.
"It's an important skill for all of us to have," Ritter noted.
Arming young people with even a basic knowledge of CPR makes communities safer, according to the American Heart Association. More than 300,000 Americans have an emergency medical services-assessed cardiac arrest outside of the hospital each year, and bystander CPR can increase a person's chances of survival two- to three-fold, the association recently announced. But fewer than half of cardiac arrest victims receive it.
A growing number of states are responding to those statistics with laws that make CPR a graduation requirement. At least 35 states have passed legislation. Ohio is one of the most recent additions to the list, and the state's new requirement will take effect next school year.
Implementation of the requirement in Kentucky hasn't been a problem for schools so far this year.
The reason: Successful completion of a health/physical education course is already a graduation requirement for Kentucky students, and CPR training is part of the course at most schools, said Walton-Verona High School Principal Joanne Estenfelder Nesmith. In fact, CPR training is included in the state's current academic standards.
Walton-Verona has included CPR training during its health classes for years. Most students take the course as a freshman, but some take it later in their high school career because of conflicts with certain electives, like band and chorus, she said.
"It ties in well with the curriculum," she explained. "I think you'll find that most high schools are already providing CPR training during Health or PE."
Nesmith is correct. A quick survey of some Northern Kentucky school districts found that CPR training has been going on in high school classrooms for years. Newport High School already offers it as part of its health/PE curriculum, as does Highlands High School in Fort Thomas. A little further south, Grant County Schools confirmed CPR training has already been taking place there as well.
The new requirement in Kentucky is prompting some local schools to look at expanding their CPR training programs, however.
At Highlands, basic training has already been part of the curriculum, but students will now use mannequins to practice hands-only CPR, according to Mike Code, the school's health/PE department chair.
In Campbell County, Ritter said the high school is exploring the possibility of offering certification renewal for seniors who initially earned CPR certification as sophomores.
"It's a two-year certification, so we may have seniors who want to renew it," he explained. "It's something we're looking into this year."
Walton-Verona is looking at taking its training up a notch and possibly offering CPR certification as an option for interested students, Nesmith said. The school's PE teacher is a certified instructor and could provide the training, she added.
At Walton-Verona, both students and staff know first-hand that proper training and a quick response can save lives during a medical emergency, according to Nesmith. One of their student athletes had a cardiac emergency on the soccer field last year, and he was saved thanks to an immediate response and the proper use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
"It spread awareness here," she said of the incident. "It's so important to be prepared."
The AED used to save the Walton-Verona student came from Cameron's Cause, a Fort Thomas-based nonprofit that raises funds and provides AEDs to area schools and athletic facilities. The organization was launched by Laura and Dave Batson after their son, Cameron Kelly Batson, died after collapsing on a local soccer field in 2010. The 18-year-old had an undiagnosed heart condition.
Although Kentucky's new law focuses on hands-only CPR, it does require that students are to receive an overview of AEDs. Currently, schools in Kentucky are not required to have AEDs, but the new law does encourage it.
As part of the new CPR training requirement in Ohio schools (House Bill 113), which takes effect next school year, students will be trained in CPR and will learn how to use an AED. The law also requires AED training for school district employees.
The American Heart Association continues to lobby for similar CPR training and hands-on practice requirements in schools in all 50 states. The nonprofit is also advocating for state laws requiring the implementation of cardiac emergency response plans in all K-12 schools.
The plans would include core elements, including establishing a cardiac emergency response team, ongoing staff training and implementing AED placement and routine maintenance. To date, only a handful of states have mandated such plans.
For a full list of K-12 CPR training requirements in each state, including Kentucky and Ohio, click here.