To help combat the spread of infection, the staff at one local elementary school took matters into their own hands. Nearly 50 fifth graders at Judith Resnik Elementary School had the opportunity to participate in “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Scrub Those Little Stubs,” an interactive program that teaches kids how to properly wash their hands.
As part of the program, participating students were assigned a number and then instructed to wash their hands normally. A fifth grade science teacher, the school’s nurse and a high school student then teamed up to culture each student’s washed hand, placing a sample in a Petri dish marked with the student’s number. The dishes were set aside in a warm, dark place for three to seven days to allow any collected bacteria to grow.
During that week, students learned about the various types of microorganisms that may be on their hands and the many ways illnesses can be transmitted from one person to another. They also learned new vocabulary words like “microbes,” “virus,” “pathogenic” and “salmonellosis.” Perhaps most importantly, students were taught that microorganisms can be spread in several ways, including hand-to-mouth contact, sharing personal items with another student, and airborne contact.
Students also learned that thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water is the best and easiest way to prevent the spread of these invisible microorganisms. Then, after being exposed to proper hand-washing techniques, students washed and cultured their hands again. The new swabs were set aside for an equal amount of time, and at the end of the week, students compared their initial dishes to the new ones.
“Several of the students decided that the bacterial growth was ‘gross’ and started paying more attention to how and when they washed their hands,” said nurse Laurie Celik. In all, 41 percent of the students showed a decrease in the amount and size of bacteria on their hands after learning the new techniques.
The program was so successful at the fifth-grade level that Celik later adapted the lessons for kindergarten through fourth graders.
The younger children rubbed a special lotion on their hands that uses ultraviolet glitter to reveal any unclean areas when put under a black light. With the light, students were able to see where they forgot to put soap – a visual reminder that will stick with them the next time they head to the sink.
“By teaching children how to wash their hands properly, (we can) teach them how to prevent the spread of many illnesses and diseases,” Celik said. “Hand washing is the easiest and cheapest way to stay healthy.”