Asthma in West Oakland: How It Affects Mack Students

OaklandTribpanelPamela

by Jonae Scott and Anthony Beron

Students at McClymonds are four times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than students at Piedmont High, just four miles away.

Just ask Pamela Tapia.

Now 19 and a 2011 graduate, Tapia recounted being hospitalized for two weeks as a Mack sophomore, just as she was writing a story for Oaktown Teen Times about air pollution and diesel fumes in West Oakland, which has the 3rd highest rate of hospitalization for asthma in the state.

“The story was no longer about statistics,” she said. “It was about ME.”

Tapia was one of six speakers at a forum about asthma sponsored by The Oakland Tribune on March 20. They tackled every aspect of asthma from triggers to vitamin D deficiency, from code enforcement to social justice issues.

For Tapia, the first asthma attack was disorienting. “Why do I feel like I’m drowning,” she recalled. It spurred her to be an activist with the Rose Foundation and along with McClymonds students from the Law Academy, to confront issues that adults were ignoring. “No one in the West was speaking up [at that time],” she said.

Tapia and Fremont High senior Pearl Joy Balagot wrote stories about asthma as reporting fellows for the Tribune. Balagot’s story this week focused on strict guidelines in the Oakland Unified School District for taking kids with asthma on field trips. In her investigation, Balagot found that most teachers were not aware of the guidelines.

The reaction was similar at McClymonds.  Ron Delaney, who teaches U.S, History,  had not heard about the new guidelines for asthma, but he had not taken any students on field trip. Kat Hall, who teaches engineering, had taken 13 students on a field trip, with one who identified as asthmatic. She said his mother kept his inhaler and said he did not need it for the field trip.

While the first panel, which also included Oakland Tribune reporter Katy Murphy,  focused on youth and asthma, the second panel addressed environmental factors and health strategies. Experts included Joel Ervice, an expert on diesel pollution regulations, Brenda Rueda-Yamashita and Dr. Washington Burns, who organized the county’s Breathmobile.

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