Back-to-school primer Keeping your school-age children healthy


PARENTS CAN HELP make a child's transition from summer freedom to school ritual a healthy one. Here are tips from some of the health coordinators for the region's schools:

* Make children eat breakfast, says Carol Dunlavey, health services coordinator for Howard County schools. Kids who don't eat breakfast "have low blood sugar and don't learn as well as students who do eat," she says. Breakfast doesn't have to consist of the traditional eggs and bacon. "It can be something very simple, like raisins and peanuts."

* Break in new shoes and clothes outside of school. "Kids have all kinds of problems with new shoes," said Shirley Steel, coordinator of the Office of Health Services for Baltimore County schools. "They get blisters, their feet hurt. You want your children to be as ready as they can to learn. If they're in uncomfortable clothing or shoes, it's hard to learn."

* Give children needed medicine at home, if possible. "We should try to avoid pulling kids out of class" to administer medication, Dunlavey says. "They miss their education."

If a child needs to take medication to school, check the school system's policies.

In Baltimore County, for example, the medicine must be kept in the original container, and a doctor's note must be provided or the child won't be permitted to take the medicine in school, says Steel.

* Make sure children get plenty of rest. Some children return to school worn out from summer vacation. Also be careful to avoid dehydration; watch children's needs for liquids, especially if the weather is still very hot.

* The new recommendation is to get two measles shots, according to Dr. John Santelli, director of the city's school and adolescent health services. "It turns out one shot doesn't hold you long enough," he says. "Either it wears off or, in some cases, the shot doesn't take in the first place."

He also recommends school physicals for children starting school for the first time. "Make sure kids are physically ready to learn," he says. "We need parents' support for doing that."

* Comply with state immunization requirements. Students whose parents have not made arrangements for getting required shots will be turned away from some schools this week. When students were registered for school, parents were told that children would not be admitted until they had been properly immunized, says John Mead, director of people services in Harford County schools.

State regulations require that a child have DPT (diphtheria, pertussis -- whooping cough -- and tetanus) shots, oral polio inoculations and an MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot. In Carroll County, for example, there are several Health Department clinics which offer these immunizations free.

In Harford County, Mead says, "we will admit some children who have not had their inoculations if they are carrying proof of an appointment to have one."

For low-income families, shots can be obtained on a sliding-fee basis from the county's health department. Mead says. "We will offer a second dose of measles, mumps and rubella [inoculations] in January free to all sixth-graders in school. Nurses will come in from the health department to give these . . . Last year more than half of the sixth-graders took advantage of this opportunity."

* If a child complains of illness before leaving for school, check for a high temperature, paleness and rashes, health coordinators recommend.

Consult with your child's school to find out its policy regarding the handling of illnesses that occur during school hours. In Harford County, for example, "a sick child will never be sent home [without parents' permission]. The parents are always contacted for a decision," Mead says.

What happens when the child complains, but doesn't seem sick? Mead says teachers and school nurses don't assume the child is faking. "A pattern of faking may become obvious, but a teacher must be careful in case the child is really sick," he adds.

Marge Hoffmaster, coordinator of health services for Carroll County schools, says.

"Our biggest concern is when parents send kids to school when they don't feel well." Hoffmaster says she has seen some children come to school with a 103-degree temperature. "When there are single parents or two who work, it's a Catch-22, but we ask parents, who know their children best, to please listen to what they say. A child who may balk at going to school or is often sick is telling them something. The parents should call the teacher and have a talk."

Hoffmaster adds that there there are 32 public schools in Carroll County, all of which have either a nurse or a health assistant on the premises.

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