Students get schooled in sun safety

Jun 10, 2016

From redheads to African Americans, Maura Flynn told Old Rochester students that no one is exempt from skin cancer or the need for sunscreen.

Flynn, a registered nurse, works with the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation based in Norwell and brought the nonprofit organization’s SunAWARE program to junior high and high school students.

SunAWARE stands for:

  • Avoid unprotected exposure to sunlight, seek shade and never indoor tan.
  • Wear sun protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses year-round.
  • Apply recommended amounts of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sunburn protection factor (SPF) ≥ 30 to all exposed skin and reapply every two hours, or as needed.
  • Routinely examine your whole body for changes in your skin and report suspicious changes to a parent or healthcare provider.
  • Educate your family and community about the need to be SunAWARE.

Over three days, Flynn spoke to more than 400 students to impress on them the realities of sun damage through the acronym.

"We’re trying to change the culture. Most people have this perception that a tan is wonderful," Flynn said.

As past president of the Dermatology Nurses' Association, Flynn said she has worked to put forward the surgeon general's "call to action" regarding sun damage.

Through SunAWARE, students are taught many facets of the issue. They learn about people not too much older than them who have exposure to tanning beds lead to their death of skin cancer.

Flynn also said she appeals to students' vanity, showing them examples of people with skin that has become leathery after too many years in the sun.

She also informs them of ways beyond sunscreen to protect themselves, wearing a hat, making sure sunglasses actually block UV rays and seeking shade when outside.

Students definitely took the message to heart.

“It was kind of shocking to see how dangerous it is to go without using sunscreen,” said Lauren O’Malley. “Before the presentation, I probably would have been like, I don’t need sunscreen. Now that I understand so many things can happen and how dangerous it is, I will definitely think about using sunscreen.”

One of the most compelling aspects of the program for each student was seeing that, even though they are young, they already have sun damage.

Flynn brought a UV camera that revealed the unseen effects of the suns rays.

“It kind of scared me a little bit to see how affected my face was. I thought I had a lot of freckles now,” said Kyah Woodland.

Another student, Zoe Kelley, said she always thought tans were good, especially in lieu of a sunburn on her fare skin. Now her mother’s words have taken on new meaning.

“You should embrace the paleness, that’s what my mom says.”

Mikias Noyce also never considered the effects of the sun, but for a different reason. Born in Ethiopia, he said he thought his skin tone had enough natural pigment to protect him.

“Now I want to take a second thought about it,” he said. “I might wear sunscreen for the first time.”

In addition to seeing the effects of UV rays on their skin, students also saw how sunscreen can protect them. After putting on some SPF, they looked at their faces in the camera again.

“It looked like mud almost, because you could see how much it protected your face,” said Gwen Miedma.

The students learned about melanoma as well and several noted that they had family members who had the disease.

Redheaded Sam Dunn said his grandmother recently passed away from it. He didn’t understand what the cancer was before, but he is always well covered in sunscreen.

“I can’t go outside without sunscreen. [My mom] will stop at any cost to get sunscreen,” he said.

Other students said they took the message home to their families.

“My dad works outside a lot but he doesn’t wear sunscreen very often. I made sure when I got home to make him more aware,” said Hannah Johnson.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos said she hopes the school can host the SunAWARE program next year as well as improve sun safety education for elementary school children.

“I believe it changed [students] lives about being ‘SunAWARE,’” she said. “We think it will affect family health.”

The program was part of the Healthy Tri-Town Coalition’s goals to improve prevention in a variety of areas for students and families.