Words by Rod Belcher
7:50 AM PDT, August 27, 2012
“For those students who are beginning school for the first time, one of the most important aspects is to help the student understand that school is fun and exciting,” says Chuck Lionberger, APR, Community Relations Specialist for Roanoke County Public Schools. “Young students often will be scared on the first day of school. They are entering into a strange new world and they will look to parents and teachers for reassurance that they will be safe and secure in this new environment.”
It’s pretty straight forward,” says Dr. Frank Guilfoyle, M.D. , a pediatrician with New Horizons Health Care in Roanoke, Virginia. New Horizons provides quality, affordable healthcare to patients in Roanoke.. Dr. Guilfoyle was one of the primary architects in the creation of the paediatrics department New Horizons opened in 2007. “Healthy children perform and get more out of school. Parents want their kids to be healthy and to do well at school. We try to provide as many tools and as much help as we can for the parents and the children.”
Keep Them Reading
To help your child get a jump on the school year and give them an academic hand up and some extra confidence, urge them to read during the summer. Encourage them to take part in summer reading programs, make weekly trips to the library, and extend bed time exclusively for the purposes of reading.
“Most schools offer summer reading programs,” Dr. Guilfoyle says. “It’s a great way to help keep a child’s mind tuned up over the summer and ready to learn in the fall.”
Read to younger children and help keep a book, instead of a video game controller, in the hand of older kids.
“For healthy living for children,” Dr. Guilfoyle continues, “a good guideline to use is two hours of screen time a day, of any, and all kinds - television, video games, or computer, and at least one hour of vigorous exercise.”
“There are several children’s books about starting school,” Lionberger says. “It may be helpful to read these books to young children to help them understand that school is exciting and not scary.”
Lionberger also adds that before school starts is a good time to help older students get back into good study habits.
“The start of school is a great time to introduce and form good study habits,” he says.
“Especially for older students who will be working on long-term projects and papers. Students should try to get into the habit of starting early on a project or paper so it doesn’t creep up on them at the last minute.”
New Gear for a New Year
Another rite of passage from summer to fall and a return to school is buying new school supplies and clothes. One health aspect of school supplies that is often overlooked is the purchase of a backpack. Backpacks should be rugged, comfortable and when filled, weigh no more than twenty percent of a child’s weight. Overloading of a pack with heavy school books and supplies can, and does, lead to back-related injuries and poor posture.
“Students are active during school,” Lionberger says. “Every day students are up and about; running, jumping and playing. Good shoes are important. Children need shoes with good support and traction. That doesn’t mean expensive shoes, just a good pair of shoes for running and jumping.”
In regards to clothing for the new school year, remember that the first few months of school are still often very hot weather. Dress for comfort and staying cool.
An Early Visit
Children of all ages experience some anxiety at the start of a new school year, just as adults often feel the same nerves about starting a new job or moving to a new city. There are ways to help your child with pre-school jitters.
“Children take clues from parent actions, even more so in words,” says Fran Kiker, Coordinator of School Counseling Services for Roanoke County Public Schools. “First, parents have to set the stage with a normal routine that would include getting ready for school in a timely manner. This is includes a reasonable bedtime, being prepared for the next day with clothes out and backpack ready. Make sure there is time to eat a healthy breakfast, and minimal morning chaos. Parental attitude is easily adopted by a child. Parents should curb their own anxiety and remember this is a normal stage of life.”
For many children, a visit to their new school can calm a lot of worries and often get them very excited for the coming year and the new adventure school offers.
“People and children especially, feel more at ease when they know what to expect. If there is any way to practice the routine, or visit the school building, or meet the teacher beforehand, that will help,” Kiker says. “Take advantage of any introductory process to the new environment. Elementary children frequently are taken on a tour of their new school in the spring prior to transitioning. Middle schools frequently have an opportunity to come to the building in the summer and go through the child’s schedule. High Schools often have opportunities to pick up schedules in the summer before school starts.
“Read any school newsletters and check the school’s website for opportunities. Make sure the child knows what school bus they will ride and carries the school bus number with them until they can remember it on their own.
Kiker points out such a visit is also a good time to meet the school’s health staff and communicate important health issues about your child.
“If your child has an unusual allergy or a chronic issue like diabetes, make sure the school knows the first day everything that is necessary: warning signs, medicine needed. This makes you and your child feel safer and allows the school to help your child in the best way.”
“If a child has a health condition that requires monitoring or interventions at school, it is crucial that the parent let the school know,” says Lavern Davis, Associate Director of Health Services for Roanoke County Schools. “They will need to talk to the school nurse to determine if an individual health plan needs to be done.”
Davis says examples of health issues include asthma, diabetes, seizure disorder, severe or life-threatening food or environmental allergies, tube feedings, catheterizations, oxygen therapy and cardiac disorders.
“Parents need to provide the school with doctor's orders, medications, and supplies needed to properly care for the child during the school day,” Davis says. “If a child will require medication at school, parents need to complete the medication administration form and take it to their child's doctor for their signature. It should be returned to the school by the parent with the medication in the original container.”
Students with disabilities
“Students with disabilities often face additional challenges with transitions, especially when starting a new school year,” says Dr. Jessica McClung, Director of Special Education for Roanoke City Schools. “This can be extremely stressful for parents. In fact, parents often experience more anxiety about a new school year than our students.”
McClung says she often ask parents to prepare their children early on for the new school year. For some, this can be as simple as discussing the new school and morning routine. For others, she encourages parents to visit the school and even take pictures of the school and teachers to share with their child.
“Others may benefit from a picture schedule to give a visual of the new school and routine,” she says. “For students with significant needs, I always encourage parents to schedule a meeting with the school staff prior to the school year beginning Finally, don't forget to communicate with the bus driver or transportation department if your child will be riding a school bus to discuss with them any specific issues or concerns you may have about your child.
“There are many accommodations and supports available to assist and communication is key. School personnel can learn a great deal from parents and, when we work together in a proactive manner, we are able to see many positive benefits for our children, including smooth transitions.”
Different ages entering the school system have different requirement for vaccinations.
“Kindergarten students need a physical dated within one year of the first day of school and all required immunizations,” Davis says.
Kindergarteners should have completed the pneumococcal vaccine series which protects against pneumonia, the varicella vaccine which protects against chicken pox, and the MMR vaccine which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Children that have already had chicken pox do not need the varicella vaccine and should have physician documentation of the illness.
“Sixth graders need a Tdap booster before the first day of school,” Davis adds.
The Tdap is short for tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine.
Meningococcal vaccine, for meningitis, and a second dose of varicella vaccine are also necessary for rising middle school students. The Tdap has replaced the regular tetanus shot (Td) in the shot schedule. The change was made because of a resurgence of whooping cough which is caused by the pertussis bacteria.
Exams and Screenings
Physical exams, like hearing and eye screenings, are excellent opportunities to address potential problems that could impact a child’s ability to learn and perform at school, says Dr. Guilfoyle.
“If deficits exist in hearing or vision, it can impact learning. Our goal with screening is to make early referrals to get the children the help they need.”
He also stresses the need to take a look at iron and lead levels for children entering school.
“Low iron leads to tiredness and irritability,” he says. “Approximately 80 percent of the homes in this area were built prior to 1978, so lead paint is still a significant issue, since it can have an adverse effect on the central nervous system of children.”
Dr. Guilfoyle adds that the physicals for grade-schoolers are a perfect opportunity to remind children of safety and health issues for the upcoming year which are specific to their age group. His practice uses a program called Bright Futures to provide children and parents with “snapshot” health profiles of possible issues headed their way at each specific age. For example, girls in the 11 to 12 year old age bracket could have their parents consider the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine for their daughters.
A visit to your child’s dentist prior to school starting for a regular cleaning and fluoride treatment will mean they will be showing off their brightest smiles their first day.
Students returning to school who wish to play a sport need to have a physical and most school divisions in Virginia require the use of the Virginia High School League physical form, or VHSL form, for the sports physicals.
Preparation, planning, and some summertime structure can go a long way towards making the start of school much more relaxing and rewarding for your children and for you.
Make a checklist or have a school preparation notebook to help keep everything on track. Talk to your family doctor or your local health department to find out what your child is required to have in the way of exams and vaccinations. Local health departments often provide these services to families struggling with finances at a reduced fee or for free.
“There is lots of good information and assistance to parents out there to get their children ready,” Dr. Guilfoyle says. “It’s up to the parents to take advantage of it.”
“Talk about what will happen,” Kiker says. “Remember that younger children are very literal and may not understand terms about school that they have not encountered. Reading books about going to school may help. Connect them with friends who will also be there. Help them understand they are not alone in the new adventure, and an adult is always there to help.”