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The Early Bird Gets the Worm: Get Involved with Your Child’s School Before School Starts

 

By Duchess Cate

 

It is possible. It is possible to have a child with multiple, life-threatening food allergies and send him or her to public school confidently and safely. It is possible to partner effectively with the principal, nurse, teachers, and staff of a public school. We’ve done it. And in this post, I’ll share how you can do it, too.

school busOur Background
Our daughter, now age 7 and in the middle of her second year in public school, has multiple, life-threatening food allergies. Within days of her birth, she was covered with oozing, scaly eczema and had serious G.I. issues. I breastfed her, so her pediatrician had me remove a few foods from my diet, but we had no idea as to the extent of her food allergies.

When she turned a year old, she had her first food allergy testing via the Skin Prick Test. It took us the better part of a year to learn her full list of offending foods. It included dairy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, peas, chocolate, strawberries, and eggs.

So, that’s our background. Those were the special needs we were dealing with for our sweet baby girl. My husband is a stay-at-home father, so her early years were fairly manageable.

Kids Day Out and Private Preschool
Our daughter attended a Kids Day Out program (with her daddy either in her room or in one nearby). Then she attended partial-day preschool at our church. Those classes were small, with just 10-15 kids, and had two leaders with teaching degrees. We met with her preschool teachers each month to review what symptoms to watch for in a food allergy reaction and how to properly respond, depending on symptom severity and number of systems involved. All in all, it was an excellent experience with only one incident (which resolved with antihistamine) in two years.

Given our daughter’s medical condition, the general lack of understanding of that condition, and our very small, controlled experience in her schooling to date, kindergarten was a big step in food allergy management. So, we made a choice to get involved with her elementary school well before she even started kindergarten.

Preparing for Public School
In January of the year she was to start school the following fall, I contacted her elementary school. I asked about our local Parent Teach Association (PTA), when they met, and what the rules were about attending those meetings. We learned the PTA meetings were open to anyone, with or without membership, so my husband or I began attending the meetings each month.

We got to know the PTA board members, parents, some of the teachers, many staff members, and the principal. Each time the opportunity presented itself, we explained that our daughter would be coming to school in the fall, that she was excited for school, that she was very social, and that she had multiple life-threatening food allergies.

It was an ideal time to talk about her special needs. The staff, teachers, and administration members were not stressed with the responsibilities that go along with the start of school – and neither were we.  We were simply there to learn and to help, and were asking nothing in return. When the time came in April to talk with the principal and the nurse about keeping our daughter safe that fall, we already knew them and they welcomed a conversation with us.

Below you will find some tips to help you get involved, now, to help pave the way for your child to have a successful start with their public school experience this fall. It is possible. You can do it too.

Get Involved: Take Small Steps
Even if you have minimum “free” time available, there are simple and easy ways that you can begin investing in your local school. Most schools do simple collections that translate into fundraising dollars. These likely include soup can labels, box tops, soda can tabs, and possible others. At minimum, begin collecting those at home and taking them up to the school at least once a month – or better yet once per week so you become a familiar face. Take it a step further still, and find out the name of the volunteer (or volunteers) responsible for coordinating those programs. Someone has to tally the collection, add up the points, fill out paperwork, and send it all off to the sponsoring organizations. Offer to help that volunteer with his or her work.

Get Involved: Support One-Time Events
Even in small school districts, the school calendar tends to be published somewhere on the web. If you can’t find it on the web, call the school’s office and pick up a hard copy. Find out what’s happening at your local elementary school, and look for ways you can help. Maybe they’re having a book fair, holding a fundraising auction, or conducting a coat and mitten drive. As they say, many hands make light work. Contact the school secretary; he or she can put you in touch with the parent or teacher who is coordinating the various events happening at school. Your call to offer assistance with that event will be welcomed.

Get Involved: Offer Periodic, Ongoing Volunteering
There always seem to be opportunities to help within the school on a day-to-day basis. Help organize and shelve books in the school library. Be a lunchroom monitor. Choose a classroom and ask the teacher if he or she would like you to read to the children occasionally. Or, if you’d prefer not to read aloud, offer to listen to the children read. If books aren’t your thing, teachers and office staff can always use help with photocopying, preparing special crafts or projects, grading homework, and other administrative work.

Get Involved: Join the PTA
Become a member. There’s a small annual fee associated with membership, part of which goes to the national organization and part of which stays with your local school district. It’s an invaluable investment; you’ll learn everything that’s happening at your school and in your district, well in advance. Take a role in your PTA. Volunteer for an event, chair a committee, or even be a board member.

What have you done to help your child transition to school and to better help your child’s educators understand your child’s food allergies, eczema, or asthma?

 

Bio: Duchess Cate (@catestew) is an active food allergy advocate in the Midwest where she lives. She and her husband strive to ensure their seven-year-old daughter, who has multiple life-threatening food allergies, is safe and included. Find and follow her on Twitter to read updates about her family’s food allergy adventures … and the funny things her daughter says 🙂

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jennifer,

    This is an extremely valuable post. When my daughter moved this year to a public school close to home, I did not do this! I was focusing so hard on my son’s new high school. Needless to say, I spent some time chasing myself. I always volunteer weekly in her school, which allows me to keep a pulse on what is taking place. My error was not getting involved with the PTA right away.

    These are those golden nuggets that make a huge difference. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    March 11, 2013
    • Hi Caroline – I know, I learned a lot from this as well. I do need to get more involved with my son’s school as well. Thanks for your comments – always appreciated 🙂

      Like

      March 11, 2013
  2. natalie nichols #

    I’m so glad I came across your blog. My 20-month-old son has severe allergies to dairy and peanuts. I’m already nervous about sending him to school. His allergies are severe. We once took a trip that required a 4 hour plane ride. On both flights, they suspended the service of peanuts for the entire flight and asked people not to eat peanuts. Because of the fact that at some point there were peanuts on the plane, my son had respiratory reactions that led to bronchitis and pneumonia because of all the inflammation and fluid that drained into his lungs. It was terrible. The dairy allergy is also worrisome because when you tell people that your child is allergic to dairy, they think that it will just give them a little bit of tummy trouble (lactose intolerance). I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new. It’s just nice to find someone who knows what we’re going through!

    Like

    March 11, 2013
    • Hi Natalie – I’m so glad you found us too! I totally understand what you’re going through and now you know that you are not alone in this. I encourage you to reach out to find a support group in your area where you can connect face-to-face with others raising a child with severe food allergies. FARE has an extensive list of groups here. http://www.foodallergy.org/support-groups

      Like

      March 11, 2013
  3. Jeannine #

    Do you ever stop to think how many people are affected by your daughter’s condition and how they have to change their eating habits for her. Does it give a. Inflated sense of importance or entitlement ?

    Like

    March 10, 2013
    • Hi Jeannine – I can’t speak for Cate, but I can tell you that we don’t ask for anyone to ever restrict their own diet for our son. We bring him food he can eat anytime we go anywhere – parties, etc. At school, we make sure to work with the educators so they’re fully aware of his allergies and how to respond if there is a reaction AND we talk with our son constantly about how to look after himself. The world is not fair and we certainly don’t him to feel entitled, but at the same time, I don’t want him to live in fear of his allergies. So, for us it’s really important that he has a complete understanding of his allergies so he can learn to manage on his own and feel confident living with his condition.

      Like

      March 11, 2013
    • Katie #

      Jeannine, does it give you an inflated sense of importance to leave such a rude and hurtful comment on a blog about children who have food allergies? This is great advice and Jennifer is going out of her way to help the school deal with a potentially life-threatening condition. Children with any disability have the right to a free public education in this country.

      Like

      March 12, 2013
  4. Great post…I know, from experience, how important it is to be a part of your child with food allergies school environment. My two boys are now in high school…my eldest son’s attendance has been instrumental in addressing many issues regarding food allergies within the school. Being an active voice, the school has been wonderful in providing a safe environment for my boys. There is still work to do…it is a slow progress but I am grateful for the opportunity to educate the educators. On another note, I am awarding you the ‘Very Inspiring Blogger’ Award. You know how much I am inspired by all that you do…you go above and beyond to get the stories for us all to be inspired…thank you ! I have posted all the rules today…come on over and check out the other 14 nominations. Susan H. @ The Food Allergy Chronicles

    Like

    March 8, 2013
    • HI Susan – Great to hear from you! That’s wonderful you can be so involved at your son’s school. Sadly mostly French is spoken in my son’s school, so it’s really hard for me to communicate. I hope I’ll be able to help out more as he gets older despite the language barrier. Thank you so much for the award! I’m so sorry, but I’m just so incredibly busy – feeling a big like a chicken running around without it’s head – horrible image I know. So, I’m not going to be able to return the favor I’m afraid. I’m so sorry! But THANK YOU so much! Jennifer

      Like

      March 21, 2013
  5. I spend a great deal of time volunteering at my boys’ school. Part of it is just because I am a stay at home mom and I want to be involved. But I also want teachers, staff and school administrators to see me as the helpful parent that I prefer to be rather than the pushy allergy mom that I sometimes must be. I love that you started this process early at your daughter’s school!

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  6. Stephanie Crane #

    Excellent post. I’m going to bookmark this and share with my friends whose children have severe allergies. Many of them just elect to homeschool as it seems so overwhelming.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
    • I totally understand. We send my son to school as his allergies are not airborne – if they were – there is no way I could send him to school every day with all the potential allergens in the air. I hope this list helps your friends see that it is possible to send many children to school, even with multiple food allergies, like my son.

      Like

      March 6, 2013

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