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Preparing Food-allergic Children for School: a Teacher's Perspective
Going back to school is both stressful and exciting for all those getting ready for the first day of class.
No matter how prepared I try to be, the mad dash to begin the year inevitably leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed, as there are many unknowns.
In August 2005, as I picked up my first-grade class list, I noticed something different. There was a note on the bottom to see my principal and school nurse. The two informed me that I had a couple of children needing medical support and another two with food allergies. I knew immediately that there would need to be a few changes in how I planned the school year.
I am sure that there are horror stories about hard-nosed, rigid teachers, just as there are about critical, demanding parents. I knew that I would never make everyone happy with my decisions in the classroom, but I really wanted to start out on the right foot with parents. We had to work together ó otherwise the students would suffer.
The most important piece was open communication. Prior to the start of the school year, I met individually with the parents of each allergy/medical student to discuss acceptable foods, what to do if a reaction occurred, and how the classroom would be cleaned if off-limit foods were brought in. During the school year we e-mailed, and, since they regularly volunteered in the classroom, we were able to touch base in person as well.
Communication with the other parents was also essential. I encouraged non-food items for birthday treats and specified in many notes that no peanut foods were to be brought in for our short snack time in the morning, for class parties, or on special days when we ate lunch outside together.
Each child with an allergy had a "snack tub" that their parents kept stocked so the children could go get a safe snack in questionable moments.
I spent a considerable amount of time developing a classroom environment that respected each studentís differences. Allergies naturally fit into class discussions. One parent of a child with allergies sent in a book and short video about allergies that I shared with the class. Halfway through the year, many of my students were checking the ingredients in their snacks to make sure they were safe and healthy for everyone.
Unfortunately, there were a few times when I did find unsafe foods in my classroom. Despite those moments, my students and parents worked together to make sure we had a safe and welcoming learning environment.
This was the closest group of students I have ever had. I could see each day that they truly cared for each other. This year, I am hoping to have the same open communication with parents to lay the groundwork for another successful year.
Deborah Simons is an educator in the Springboro Community City School District in Ohio.
Updated August 2008. This article first appeared in the Fall 2006 edition of Support Net™ and is available to download (requires Adobe Reader .)