Reading, writing, arithmetic and saving lives, Michigan schools to teach CPR

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING – This year, in addition to math, science and history, students will also be learning how to save lives.

It is the first year that Michigan schools must teach students to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use automated external defibrillators. The law now mandates that between seventh and 12th grade, students must learn how to perform CPR to graduate from high school.

“This legislation brought Michigan in line with more than half of the country by ensuring all Michigan students learn the life-saving skill of CPR before graduation,” said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, the primary sponsor of the bill.

Thirty-seven states now require CPR training as a graduation requirement, according to the American Heart Association.

Barb and Bill Rafaill, Albion residents, say they believe so much in the law that they donated CPR kits to schools in both Calhoun and Oceana counties to support it.

“I know lives can be saved,” Barb Rafaill said. “It’s just a matter of education.”

The survival rate after cardiac arrests that occur outside of a hospital is just 11 percent, often because bystanders do not know how to help, according to the American Heart Association. The agency’s hope is that the law will increase the number of people who can perform CPR and intervene in emergencies.  

“Approximately 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in residences, so this requirement will help put people with knowledge of CPR in the places where it’s most likely to happen,” said Cindy Bouma, the association’s communications director for western Michigan.

“If you increase the amount of people who are trained and capable of performing CPR, you increase the likelihood that a bystander will be able to intervene until emergency responders arrive,” Schuitmaker said.

Under the law, students will receive hands-only training, meaning they will learn chest compressions. They won’t be required to perform mouth-to-mouth, according to the association. Hands-only CPR can be taught in as little as 30 minutes, depending on class size, Bouma said.

Students will also learn how to use an automated external defibrillator. That is a device that delivers an electric shock to the heart through the chest and can potentially allow a normal heart rhythm to restart after a cardiac arrest, according to the association.

Schools may use teachers or certified CPR instructors to teach the classes. Teachers do not have to be certified to teach CPR, but if schools want students to get a certification they must be taught by certified instructors. Teachers would need training, but schools can take advantage of volunteers such as paramedics and firefighters who have already been properly trained.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Shawn Walbecq, the kindergarten through 12th grade principal for Suttons Bay Area Public Schools. “The more people that know the techniques,  the better.”

Walbecq said he plans to use local services for teaching CPR in his schools.

“We’re a small community,” he said. “Local paramedics have kids who go to school here, and we have their support.”

The Michigan Education Association says the law is a good idea, but that schools should receive government funding to change curriculum and implement the training, said David Crim, a communications consultant for the union.  

The American Heart Association sells and lends kits to help teach the technique or they can get them from local paramedics or firefighters, Bouma said.

Barb Rafaill said she and her husband wanted to do something to bring more attention to the new law, and they encourage others to help the schools in their communities.

“It’s a wonderful idea that young people are being educated in CPR,” Barb Rafaill said. “We wanted to make a difference so schools didn’t have to buy them.”

The American Heart Association expects the training to greatly increase the number of people able to perform CPR.

“We estimate the program will add 100,000 newly trained people every year,” Bouma said. “In five or 10 years, think of how many people there will be who can perform CPR.”