Laura Rauth reading to students in the library at Webster elementary
Laura Rauth reads to students at the opening of the Webster Elementary library, which Rauth and nursing students helped to open, in 2019.

Laura Rauth, a clinical instructor in the Department of Nursing, has been recognized with a Community Schools Award by the City of Philadelphia for her work leading Temple nursing students at a city elementary school. Rauth has been bringing nursing students to learn and assist at Webster Elementary School in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood for more than five years, as part of the Community Home program.

“At a time when the entire world is struggling with war and disease and political strife, you have chosen to stay positive, to focus on community—on your community—and to lift others up,” Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney said to award honorees at City Hall ceremony in May. 

The Community Home program, a fieldwork element of the nursing curriculum, places students in neighborhood organizations over the course of five semesters to give them hands-on experience. 

“I couldn't teach in a classroom what our nursing students learn at Webster,” Rauth says. “Classroom teaching would never get across the impact, the positive feelings you get by making a difference, and the positive pride that a community can have when it helps itself. Our students learn how you have to know the community, boots on the ground, to understand what their needs are.”

Rauth and her Temple nursing students provide health screenings and education for elementary schoolers at Webster, but they have also consistently gone above and beyond to meet the unique challenges that the city public school environment presents. In the early days of the program, she says, “we noticed in the bathrooms there was no soap and no paper towels. So no basic infection control. Kids would walk out shaking their hands.” It turned out that children had been clogging toilets with paper towels, so the dispensers were removed. Rauth’s team worked out a way to bring back the soap and paper towels that included health education.

“We did some cool, interactive lessons with the kids, from kindergarten through fifth grade, about the importance of hand washing, what germs are,” she says. When the nursing team learned that some children considered certain bathrooms scary because they were dark or run down, the nursing students painted bright murals. 

In conjunction with a local church, Open Door Ministries, Rauth’s student nurse team helped the school open a library with a drive that received more than 6,000 book donations.

“Now the school has a beautiful library space,” Rauth says. “Temple University donated some seating from the old Paley library. We got bookshelves from people who were willing to donate. Literally every kid in the school checks out a book every two weeks. We are doing read-alouds and working with students who have issues with reading, one-on-one, all with a goal of building literacy and subsequently health literacy.”

The Temple team has created programs on mindfulness and stress management for students as well as Webster teachers. The Kensington neighborhood where Webster is located is economically disadvantaged, and it presents ongoing challenges for those in the building.

“What they may need teaching on may not be something that I would immediately teach in suburbia. Gun safety and needle safety have been requested by the school nurse and the principal,” Rauth says.  

The nursing students understand the impact they can have in that environment. 

“They become mentors. The children look for them,” Rauth says. “We have had children tell us stories that have subsequently been reported as risks, and those may not have come out had we not been sitting in a small group, listening.” 

But a lot it is just standard kid stuff, too, like checking kids’ vision when they seem to be struggling in class. “There's not a week that goes by that I don't get one of the teachers saying something like, ‘Can you take a look at this kid? I'm worried about this rash,’” Rauth says.