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The University of Oregon's Center on Brain Injury Research and Training program, part of the Department of Psychology, is housed in the Rainier Building. (Visiter7/Wikimedia Commons)

The University of Oregon's Center on Brain Injury Research and Training program recently accepted a $2.2 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Around the O. The grant is part of a four-year cooperative agreement to research and gather data on the effectiveness of CBIRT’s Back To School program — a program that helps students grades K-12 who have suffered traumatic brain injuries successfully reintegrate into their academic and social lives. 

Assessment of students' ease of reintegration after traumatic brain injuries is becoming a more national concern. In 2017, a congressional request to the public asked for thorough research on recovery from brain injury and students' academic success. The CDC responded with a report to Congress that outlines current learning barriers for students with TBIs and mentions possible solutions such as building connections between schools and medical professionals.

“A TBI of any severity can negatively affect a child's future ability to learn and perform in school,” the report states. CBIRT’s Back to School program was one of two selected programs to receive funding from the CDC. Pending research findings the program will be implemented nationwide. 

Since 1994, the Back to School program has been used in school districts served by the High Desert Education Service District in Central Oregon, according to Around the O.  The program focuses on four critical factors of achieving reintegration success: identification and screening practices, communication between medical and educational professionals, tracking of children's symptoms and progress and professional development for school staff. 

The Back to School program brings a variety of professionals in students lives together to improve communication,  said CBIRT director and research leader Ann Gland. She added that it “doesn’t always go well,” but that building relationships between school nurses, doctors and parents is something that has gone well in Central Oregon, which is why the program is being studied. She said a lot of times students will return to academics and not tell anyone they’ve been injured. So having a doctor communicate with a teacher or a school nurse can prompt questions about injury after students miss several days of school.

CBIRT and the CDC have weekly meetings and Glang said that, two months in, things are going well. “We have the subject matter knowledge, and they have broad public health and epidemiology background,” she said. 

 Over the next four years, this team will conduct comparative research between schools in Central Oregon with the Back to School model, and schools in rural Ohio that don't currently have a reintegration plan or method. Glang said they chose Ohio for the comparison sites because there is no model for reintegration currently implemented, and the program had pre-existing connections within potential comparison schools. 

The team has things well planned out to span all four years of the agreement. The first year will focus on recruiting schools in Ohio school districts willing to participate. Glang said the goal is to have 50,000 students total from several smaller districts consistently monitored for as long as symptoms continue to exist, such as headaches, vision differences and nausea or vomiting.  

The second and third years will focus on interviews and focus groups with students from Ohio schools and their families. Conclusions will be drawn based on academic performance as measured by grades and other indicators of academic success, such as attendance. The team will analyze and publicize the data in the fourth year of the program to determine its future use

There are many factors in students lives that can be the cause of TBIs and can play a role in the students access to recovery options and reintegration assistance resources. “You’re not going to control who the child is and what their family is like and what their health is prior to their injury,” Glang said, “but you can control what happens to them when they go back to school or to the community.”