A new project, on childhood asthma

Every so often, reporters have the luxury of stepping back from the routine of our daily beats and consider ways of doing work that is more ambitious, wider-reaching — to learn about what we’re not covering, but should be, or, maybe, a fresh take on an issue we’ve been following closely.

For me, that’s happening this week. Photographer Alison Yin and I are teaming up on a project for the Oakland Tribune about childhood asthma and air quality. We’ll be at USC for the next few days with other  journalists whose work is being supported by a National Health Journalism Fellowship.

The project, which the Tribune is also supporting, will explore the rising asthma rates among kids in the U.S. and its strong grip on parts of the Bay Area, particularly among African-American children. We want to look at the role of air quality (indoor and outdoor) and, in general, what’s known about the causes of the disease. As we continue to brainstorm ideas, we’re open to yours. If there are angles you think we should pursue, or people we should talk to, email me! I’m at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Tomorrow, we visit the Port of Long Beach, which is especially relevant to our story. I’ll be tweeting occasionally from the sessions, which began last night, if you’re interested or want to add your thoughts. I’m at Twitter.com/katymurphy (or @katymurphy), and we’re all using the hashtag #nhjf12.

I look forward to hearing your ideas!


Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • makeitgoaway

    Some years ago when I was teaching at an Oakland middle school, we noticed how small many of the kids were, and had them tested for lead poisoning. they lit up the measurements, as they had mot likely been exposed to lead while playing on a playground built on top of an old battery plant down the street. Lead poisoning causes brain damage as well. The point is that environmental justice is important, and you are doing good work in exploring these angles Katy.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for your support. It’ll be a major undertaking, I expect, and I’m looking forward to it.

    I plan to blog more about the tour we took in Wilmington, past the homes and schools right up against the ports of LA and Long Beach and several oil refineries (and freeways). It reminded me of the Bay Area’s industrial corridor.

  • Debora

    My daughter has chosen to test water in several places in the bay area for the quality of the water. We have samples from the water near the Chevron refinery in Richmond, to the C&H plant near Crockett to Emeryville, Alameda, the port of Oakland, Lake Merritt and a few other locations in Marin and Solano counties. She is comparing the water over time and looking at copper, iron, led, chlorine, nitrates/nitrites, bacteria and so on.

    The water is amazingly contaminated near refineries. If the toxins are in the water, I can imagine that they are also in the air.

    This came about when she was sickened by an algae bloom several years ago off Half Moon Bay.

    When we say the housing is inexpensive in a certain area of a city or in certain cities, we of course are not adding in the total cost of living in the city. We are not adding in the cost of medical care, reduced tax revenue from students reduced capacity and IQ, the cost of special education and so on.

  • Peach

    Through county and other grants, OUSD has had programs to support students and their families who suffer from asthma. This investigation is another opportunity to examine the health dangers students face, and some of the challenges to mitigating those dangers.

    This is important information for teachers, support personnel and policy makers. Another valuable set of information would be that dealing with the diseases. For example, teachers and administrators may not be aware of the side effects of the steroids and other medications students take.

    Asthma attacks and medications lead to frequent absences, lack of sleep, mood swings, bone pain and permanent bone damage. Of course, children and adults can die from asthma.

    Yes, poverty has negative effects on children’s educational prospects.

  • Nontcair

    Time for OUSA to hire an Assistant Superintendant for Air Quality.

  • J.R.

    LOL! that was a good one, we need more bureaucrats,consultants and paper pushers(policy makers). That will solve the problem real quick.

  • Oaklandotter

    Asthma is a significant health concern for students and an environmental justice issue. Flare ups can result in hospital stays, missed school, increase medications with side affects, and parent loss of work hours. The kids miss critical learning time and can fall behind, the school looses out on attendance based dollars. Air quality improvements can be made in classrooms through portable replacement and building modernizations. My daughter’s asthma is serious enough that we face multiple hospitalizations before she was even school aged. My heart goes out the the students and families whose asthma continues to be a critical health issue. I appreciate OUSD following up with my daughter about her asthma as she transfers schools within the system.

  • Nontcair

    Environmental justice?!

    Once again we see someone (likely a leftist voter) who wants to use public education as a *political* institution.

    (Q) What happened to the special interest (constituency) in favor of math and reading?

    (A) It fled to the private schools long ago.

    Please don’t feel that I’m bashing leftists. KM recently posted a story about retired US military personnel (likely neocon voters) who want to use the schools to prepare the kids for .. military service.

    You know, a military justice issue.

  • J.R.

    The seeming contradiction in foresight and planning of locating school sites in hazardous environments(such as Lakeview), and then trying to enact policy to ameliorate those very same health issues.




    bass ackwards

  • Student Teacher

    I went to an interview yesterday. During the conversation the language was used “We want to close the achievement gap between African-American and Latino students and White and Asian students.” I was then asked to explain how I would create a lesson.

    I said I would review the State common core standards and the district pacing chart. I would use a thematic unit and tie reading, writing, math and if possible social studies to the unit. I would teach directly because we have overwhelming evidence that it works best. Students would work indepedently or in pairs because the students are responsible to and for each other and the information and the evidence with students of color is that groups of four or more have less success in creating and incorporating knowledge. I would then assess the knowledge gained in the lesson.

    The interviewers came back with students like working in groups better. We care about the whole child in our school and not about testing every lesson.

    As the interview went on, I asked about teaching science and using math manipulatives for younger students so they have concrete examples of the math they are learning. I was told, “We don’t have time for manipulatives. We barely have time for reading, writing and math worksheets – and then of course there is benchmark testing.”

    My point is that if the schools continue to add to the day more and more non-academic filler to each day, there will continue to be a larger and larger achievement gap. Why? Because the vast amount of “feel good”, medical care, dental care, kindness or social training, therapy and so on is done during school time to African-American and Hispanic students primarily – leaving out the education that white and Asian students are getting during the same time.

    Do these students need medical care? Yes! They need it before and after school from qualified professionals. Do they need dental care? Yes! They need it before and after school from qualified professionals. Do they need “feel good” sessions or group work when they are not learning the material? No, they will feel good as they genuinly learn difficult material, master it and apply it to learn even more. Do our students need therapy? Yes, not during school hours but before or after school by a qualified professional and so on.

    We need to understand how asthma affects students, we need to make a plan, but we do not need to take away learning time to do so. Oaklandotter’s school coordinated the plan but they did not need to take the daughter out of the classroom to do so, yet that is just the case in schools where the students are primarily African-American and Hispanic.

  • Nontcair

    Did you ever get the sense that the schools are a bit long on pedagogy?

    The “whole” child. Really.

  • Nontcair

    Your bias in favor of “professionals” is showing.

    Lemme guess: during the school day we need more academic instruction by .. “qualified professionals”.

    Haven’t the qualified professionals done enough damage to the schools already?

  • J.R.

    This “whole child” approach is and has been a failure because parents are supposed to be responsible for the life health and welfare of the child. The education establishment is only supposed to be responsible for the education of the child. Parents are not fulfilling their responsibilities toward their own children, and are in some instances placing these kids at great risk. That is and should be criminal. It should not be a crime to be poor, but it is criminal to subject your own children to that kind of poverty and hardship. We as a society have propagated and financially encouraged unrelenting promiscuity since the sixties, and we are paying the price for that.

  • Peach

    Some OUSD schools (below International Boulevard) feel the layered impacts of being close to the Port of Oakland and the resulting truck traffic, a busy freeway, manufacturing plants, and the awful noise pollution of BART. In fact, there are at least 15 schools and some preschools that exist under those circumstances.

    It is important that we are aware of the health, intellectual, and educational results of these conditions. Along with this awareness, schools and teachers that actually teach the existing grade level standard curriculum in Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, and Health might contribute to students’ ability to respond to their situations. There are many of us who believe that the movement away from teaching the subject areas, with a relentless focus on Reading (with no Writing) and Basic Math, is part of an attempt to keep our students ignorant, uneducated, un/underemployed, imprisoned, disenfranchised, and unengaged in economic/political life.

    African American and Latino students in low income neighborhoods need an education that is as rich and intellectually stimulating as that received by students in more affluent communities. They are not faceless members of a monolithic mass; they are talented and smart individuals who can achieve and compete.

  • J.R.

    Everyone needs an education, the question is “do they want to participate in the educational process”? Not everyone can be an exemplary student, but most if not all can become fully functioning members of society with diligence and hard work.

  • Oakie

    I have a question about the asthma stats comparing impoverished AA and Latino children to others. Are they statistically adjusting for whether there is smoking in the household?