Essrig Elementary School partners with USF Dermatology for sun protection program

– Grant from American Academy of Dermatology will help build shade structure –

A local elementary school that partnered with USF Health dermatologist Neil Alan Fenske, MD, is one of 37 organizations nationwide to receive a 2008 Shade Structure Program Grant from the American Academy of Dermatology.

The $8,000 grant will support Cecile B. Essrig Elementary School’s fundraising initiative to build a pavilion that will cover the school’s existing outdoor basketball court. Essrig was one of only three schools in Florida receiving the AAD grant this year, and the only one in Hillsborough County.

The Proud Panther Pavilion is intended to help protect the school’s 800 students and their families and faculty from the damaging ultraviolet rays of Florida’s sun. The school currently has no gymnasium and all recreational activities are outdoors. The pavilion will be used during physical education and other outdoor classes, after-school recreational activities and school-wide events – many which occur during the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dr. Fenske, endowed chair of the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery and a long-time fellow of ADD, wrote the letter in support of Essrig’s Shade Structure Program grant. Grant applicants must be sponsored by an AAD dermatologist.

Over the last two years the school and its Parent Teacher Association (PTA) have raised more than $80,000 toward the $130,000 pavilion, and Essrig expects to break ground for the structure sometime this fall, said Kathy Murphy, PTA board member and grant writer.

“Dr. Fenske and his team at the USF Department of Dermatology have been very responsive and supportive of our sun safety protection program,” Murphy said. “Having a local academic dermatologist who is internationally known as a sponsor definitely adds credibility to our educational initiative.”

“The grant is a real tribute to this PTA and school, which have been so proactive in demonstrating their commitment to sun safety,” Dr. Fenske said.

“It’s easier to persuade younger kids to use sunscreen, hats and other measures to protect their skin from sun overexposure than to try to convince teenagers,” he added. “Intervening early in life is best, because 80 percent of lifetime exposure to the sun occurs before age 18, and most skin cancers are caused by skin damaged in childhood.”

In late May, Dr. Fenske was interviewed about sun protection and skin cancer prevention by two elementary school students from Essrig – brothers Matthew, 10, and Daniel, 7, Lydon. The videotaped interview aired over the school’s closed circuit TV system the last week of school and will be rebroadcast for new students this fall.

Dr. Fenske also spoke with parents at the school’s end-of-the-year PTA family night on June 3, encouraging them to incorporate sun safety into their children’s outdoor activities and providing AAD brochures and bookmarks on the ABCs of safe fun in the sun. The Dermatology Department also plans to disseminate information to community sports programs frequented by Essrig students.

The AAD’s Shade Structure Program is supported by Johnson & Johnson. It is open to non-profit organizations or educational institutions serving children and teens under age 18, for permanent shade structures over outdoor locations not protected from the sun, such as playgrounds, pools, and other recreational areas.

This year more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. The American Cancer Society ranks Florida second in the country for incidents of skin cancer.

– Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications