Sixth-graders aren’t too young to save a life

Boxborough trains students in CPR

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / January 2, 2011

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The sixth-grade students at Blanchard Memorial School in Boxborough weren’t just taking their regular math and English classes last month — they were learning how to save lives.

During two days before their winter break, the students were certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, learned the Heimlich maneuver, and were taught how to use a defibrillator.

The training was conducted by the Boxborough Fire Department in conjunction with school officials.

“This is a new and innovative program that we hope will really catch on in other surrounding communities,’’ said Fire Lieutenant Jason Malinowski. “The curriculum itself is very basic.’’

Malinowski said the CPR curriculum has been significantly simplified in an effort to train as many people as possible. He said students are typically certified in the emergency resuscitation techniques in ninth grade, but he decided to try working with the sixth-graders this year.

The students spent parts of two days with Fire Department staff, first learning why CPR is used and how it’s done, and then practicing with dummies.

CPR is a combination of rescue breathing and chest compressions delivered to people thought to be in cardiac arrest. The students learned about traditional CPR that involves mouth-to-mouth breathing, but were also taught a new, hands-only approach that focus es on chest compressions.

Most students had many questions and were excited to learn a potentially life-saving technique.

“I’ve just learned from movies and I didn’t get that much information,’’ said Ray Boppana, 12. “It’s fun that the firefighters came and showed us how to do it. It’s pretty cool, and it’s definitely useful because it could save someone’s life.’’

Rose Scheuft, 11, said she feels more self-confident now that she knows the life-saving techniques, but she hopes she won’t ever have to use them.

“Right now, it’s scary,’’ she said. “It’s a big responsibility.’’

Jack Amaral, 12, said CPR is a little intimidating but he understands the importance of learning about it.

“It would be scary if I ever had to do it to someone, but I would try because I have the information now,’’ Amaral said.

Curtis Bates, superintendent of Boxborough’s school system, said he thinks the students are the perfect age to learn the procedures. He said he followed up with several of them to see whether they were retaining the information, and all were so far.

He said the students are mature enough, and the CPR certification fits in perfectly with the sixth-grade science curriculum on the circulatory system.

“It’s very beneficial at this level to have those skill sets developed at an early age, and hopefully they’ll continue to get recertified,’’ Bates said. “It’s one thing to have a teacher stand up in front of the class and describe it, but here they had an opportunity to utilize the dummies and learn how to place their fingers correctly.’’

Malinowski said he was hesitant at first to work with students so young, but it’s worked out well.

“It’s definitely an experiment we hope will really work,’’ Malinowski said. “What I’m hoping to find is that the students are very receptive to this and feel empowered to save lives.’’

Malinowski said his goal is to certify as many people in town as possible.

The Metropolitan Boston Emergency Medical Services Council Region IV has designated Boxborough as a HeartSafe community, which means that it has already met certain criteria for strengthening what the American Heart Association calls the chain of survival.

The HeartSafe program recognizes communities that have increased the potential for saving the lives of people suffering sudden cardiac arrest through the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and increased public access to defibrillators, said Derrick Congdon, assistant director of the local Emergency Medical Services Council.

Congdon said there is no science behind what age is appropriate, but he believes sixth grade is an acceptable age because the students are mature enough and have the strength to at least start the process.

Congdon said it’s not unusual for high school seniors to be certified in CPR, but less common for younger students. He said it can only benefit a community, however, to have as many people as possible trained. He said high school certification is helpful, but those students graduate in a year and leave for college.

“These students will be around for another six years,’’ Congdon said. “The earlier they can start, the better off a community is.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at