Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Staying Safe in Elementary School with a Peanut Allergy

This time last year, I was a nervous wreck. My peanut allergy son was finishing up preschool and I was preparing to send him to Kindergarten.

His first year of school has gone remarkably well.

I credit the success to:

1. Prayer
2. Preparing Early
3. Constant Communication with Teacher and Staff members
4. Education
5. Being Proactive

1. Prayer. I believe, without a doubt, that prayer makes a difference. I pray for my son's safety regularly.

2. Preparing Early.
Last year, about this time, my husband and I met with the school nurse and principal. We discussed David's allergy. I brought the What I'd Like for You To Know post that I shared yesterday. We talked about the best way to keep David safe. We planned setting up a peanut free table. We worked out the plan for how the Epipen would be handled. We talked about food in the classroom. We created a health plan for my son. They could not tell me his teacher at that point. We made plans for me to meet with the teacher the week before school started. We asked for what we wanted. We did not demand what we thought we needed. There's an important distinction there that creates a working relationship. There were things that we asked for that we didn't decide on at that first meeting. Those decisions were made closer to the start of school. Our willingness to consider what worked best for the teachers and staff, encouraged them to work harder to make the concessions that we wanted.

3. Constant Communication with Teacher and Staff members
A key to our success this year has been my constant communication with the teacher and staff members. Here's my plug for volunteering at school: the more you do at the school, the more you will develop a relationship with the staff members. I have had times when I was at school where a staff member would let me know a concern or ask me a question. I feel certain that wouldn't have happened as much if they would have had to call. Staying in constant contact with the teacher gives the teacher an easy way to let you know about school parties or special projects that are happening in the classroom. There have been times when the teacher has mentioned something to me when I was picking up my son or volunteering at school. I know many parents work so it is hard to be at the school during the day. There are other ways to be actively involved. You could sign up to take home projects to work on. Something as simple as cutting out circles (or something like that) for a teacher, will create a sense that you want to be involved. The year before my PA son entered school, I took home projects to help my older son's teacher. Involvement makes a difference. I believe that. Another fantastic way to communicate is through email. My son's teacher has my email address. We communicate regularly that way.

4. Education
At the beginning of the year, I read Allie the Allergic Elephant to my son's class. The class also had a taste of sunbutter on crackers. We gave them a chance to ask questions. Along with that, I provided the teacher the Beyond a Peanut cards. I sent allergy information to the 3 kindergarten teachers, the manager of the Cafeteria staff, the person in charge of the health room, and the principal.

I cannot emphasize this enough: It isn't enough to educate the school staff members, the child with food allergies must be educated about his allergies. My son is extremely careful. He questions everything he is given to eat. He is used to seeing my "ok" on the classroom snacks. For example, while I checked the snacks that were used to make a snack left by lephrechans, my son wasn't comfortable eating it because he couldn't read the labels. Thankfully, his creative and caring teacher called me to ask if the Leprechans had left the food out for me to check. The point is, my son understands that he shouldn't take chances.

5. Being Proactive
Throughout the year, I have tried to be proactive. I created a list of safe snacks, safe candy, and safe party items. I walked through Wal-mart with a pen and pad of paper making the list. I tried to make a large enough list so that the parents would have plenty of choices. I emailed the list to the teacher. She sent out the lists numerous times throughout the year (especially before Halloween and Valentine's Day). She also handed them out to parents before parties.
Being proactive means thinking ahead. Coming full circle with my list, I am already preparing early for next year. I have talked briefly with the Principal about worked well and what we might change for my son when he's in 1st grade. She is already considering getting Epipen training for a 1st grade teacher.

This year has been a good year. Please email me (gravityofmotion@hotmail.com) if you have questions about the provisions that were put in place for my son. Also, feel free to email me if you have questions about my son's allergy.


Colette said...

Jane Anne, it sounds like you have a very positive approach! Great job!

Nicole said...

The list sounds like a great idea!

Foursons said...

I remember you going through all of this last year. You have done a great job and been the ultimate advocate for your son.

He & Me + 3 said...

I seriously think that you should be a spokes person like Trace for children with nut allergies. yOu are so on top of everything. So glad this year went so well.

Alicia said...

I still remember how stressed you were about this. I'm so glad that he was safe throughout the year. I think by you staying on top of this was what really did it!!

Five Moms & A Blog said...

Awesome post! You do need to educate your son, and I'm glad you do.

In one of our classes at church we were giving out m&ms to the kids. I asked if any of them were allergic to peanuts, and I knew one of the kids was.

Even though the m&ms were plain, I was afraid to give him any. You just never know. So I gave him something else that his mom said was o.k.

~ Nan

Jason said...

I love the way you handled this. It sounds like you and the school are on the same page. Were the other classroom parents supportive?

Jason said...

I almost forgot the most important thing. Roll Tide!

SunButterLover said...

We parents know parenting is a full time job, but staying on top of the allergy sounds like a second career. Thanks for sharing your tips with others. Glad a safe, healthy SunButter treat could be part of your great hands-on education approach.
I hope other allergic parents are inspired.

pnutfreemamma said...

I have tried many of these approaches....especially prayer! However; today, my son went to kindergarten for his first day... he came home safe, which was a relief. I was in constant panic all day. when the kids came home I offered snack as always and my PA son said he didn't eat all day. He was afraid to eat because he tried to ask several helpers/teachers if the food was safe and they ignored him and one told him to dump his food!!! I am so sad for him. I thought I have done a good job explaining and making the awareness well known, but some just don't care! I feel like I will have to call or be to the school everyday because they don't get it or try to. I can't afford to run to the school everyday because it is 10 miles away(scary in itself) and single motherhood limits finances pretty bad, not to mention my vehicle has been disabled for 2 weeks. How do I get the point across that this is serious, life threatening to my youngest?