When a high school student suffers a concussion it takes time for them to return to their normal level of physical and cognitive functioning, and a Sahuarita Unified School District program is helping make sure that they engage in a safe level of learning while their brain is healing.
The Cognitive Return To Exertion Program is a concussion management initiative that helps educate students before a concussion occurs, provides testing before and after a concussion and includes a concussion treatment program, said Amber Woods, director of community outreach for the district that serves more than 5,800 students in Pima County just south of the Tohono O’odham Nation and about 15 miles south of Tucson.
Video by Brooke Razo/ASBA: Sahuarita USD – Cognitive Return to Exertion
The program, which is in its fourth year, provides support for students that is not readily available in Southern Arizona, Woods said.
“I’m super impressed with how well-equipped the school is to handle concussions – they’re better equipped than the big school districts,” a parent said.
A CoRTEx interdisciplinary team works with the student and family to document the student’s symptoms and make adjustments to make sure the student engages in a safe level of cognitive activity as the brain heals so that symptoms do not worsen, Woods said.
“It is a huge relief to me as a parent to know that there is a team in place to assist us,” another parent said.
Cognitive symptoms can include difficulty concentrating or remembering, slow processing, difficulty following directions, impaired word finding, and attention difficulties.
Students who do not have this extra help and support after a concussion can experience lower academic performance and a reduction in on-time graduation, which can seriously impact their life after high school, Woods said.
The process is considered successful if the student can maintain their pre-concussion academic performance, return to their full academic schedule without adjustments and safely return to play in a reasonable amount of time to reduce social isolation and symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to Sarah Dachtyl CCC/SLP, the district’s concussion management team leader who developed the CoRTEx protocol.
Sahuarita Unified’s Cognitive Return To Exertion program won one of Arizona School Boards Association’s Golden Bell Promise Program Awards.
Arizona school districts interested in applying for the award this year should submit their application online before Oct. 26, 2018.
Academic adjustments can include rescheduling exams, pulling students from physical education courses that could hinder their recovery, sunglasses for light sensitivity, reduced computer use, peer note takers, extended time for assignments and tests, reduced reading assignments and a shortened school day.
As part of the initiative, Sahuarita Superintendent Dr. Manny Valenzuela has created partnerships with the Pima County Health Department and the CACTIS Foundation to provide baseline brain scans.
Earlier this month, Walden High School girls soccer players had baseline electroencephalograms done with technology purchased with funds donated to the district, and after soccer season, administrators will decide if the program will be expanded to include all student athletes, according to a Green Valley News article.
During one test, athletes wearing EEG caps and headphones were asked to click their computer mouse when they heard odd noises among 200 common noises, the article said.
One student noted that another test in which they had to find the letters A through M and the corresponding numbers 1 through 3 in a maze and touch them in A-1, B-2 order was difficult.
Student athletes in Sahuarita Unified already have neurocognitive, vision, balance, and hand-eye coordination tests and physical exams.
Since 2014, the team has helped more than 225 students with a diagnosed or suspected concussion and parents and students say they appreciate the program.
The program “helped me understand more the severity of the situation, and to find ways to help her at home as well. Thank you so much again,” said a different parent about the program.