I’m not sure if this is a tradition everywhere in the United States, but in Southern California, middle schoolers get to go on a fun trip known as “Outdoor Education” for one week. This is better known as “Camp,” and kids love it. They get to go with all their classmates, and they have great experiences. I remember my sense of anticipation for it when I was a kid, and I knew James must have felt the same way when he started middle school this year.
That’s why I was disheartened to hear that parents were not just discouraged from attending, but they were outright forbidden. Which made me immediately wonder if James would be able to attend. To any other audience, this wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. To any readers who also have a kid with type 1 diabetes, you must know how I was feeling!
You see, Outdoor Education is not the same as diabetes camp, where all of the campers have diabetes and the staff are specially trained to manage it. Rather, it’s a weeklong school field trip. And it is HARD to leave our kids overnight, even in the best of circumstances. Add in lots of physical activity, unknown food, excitement, etc., and it is practically a recipe for roller-coaster blood sugar swings. Then there was the other part: The camp James’ class was going to is located on an island, reachable only by an hour-and-a-half drive followed by a two-hour boat ride! Oh, and there’s only spotty cellular coverage, so it wasn’t as if I could remote-monitor James and communicate with him through his phone.
Can you see why I was nervous? I wished 100 times that I could just feel comfortable letting him go—that I could have just the “normal” sending-first-kid-off-to-camp worries that any parent might go through. But my concerns were pretty founded in our reality. I really questioned whether James could go at all, and that made me sad.
For their part, the school offered to send medical personnel. I had to really think about that one for a bit. I realized that I COULD be comfortable with that solution. I mean, a well-trained nurse or medic could give James the opportunity to really separate from us for a bit. I think that is a good thing. But it was so clear to me that finding someone with all the training required—someone that I could trust to do all of the site changes and other necessary tasks, given the duration and remote location of the camp—was going to be difficult. I realized that if I could convince the school to let me go, it would be much easier for pretty much everyone (not to mention MUCH cheaper for them!). Surprisingly, even when I presented the school with the economic viability of my option, they still were pretty firm in not permitting parents to attend.
This rigidity was a new thing for this school. They are normally so helpful and responsive, but here I was hitting a brick wall. I figured out quickly that what I needed to do was to change hearts and minds. Here’s how I did it.
First, I spent a lot of time thinking through every angle and trying to understand the school’s objections. Fortunately, there was another family going through this same process—James has a classmate who also has type 1—so we were able to brainstorm together. (It ended up being a big help—more on that in my next post.)
Second, I gathered all the information that I could. This step was huge in this process. It turns out that the school didn’t have all the information about what services the camp could provide to a parent and a “special needs” child. Once it was clear that the camp had previously dealt with situations like ours, it was a much easier sell to the school.
Third…now this part was a bit unorthodox. Normally, I feel a written email trail is the best protocol for working with a school—you know, so you can have documentation. Other times, it’s better to make a show of force and go to the school in person. By contrast, in this particular situation, I felt that I needed to talk to the administrator on the phone. Call it inspiration, call it “mommy gut,” I just felt like the administrator was on my side and trying to make the trip happen, despite the fact that it was counter to school policy. So I wanted to talk with her one-on-one. The call was productive. It was the right thing to do for us.
And with that, James was headed to his week at Outdoor Education. And I was thrilled that I would be going along too, although my excitement was very different than when I was a young middle schooler!
Check back here soon, when I’ll share more about our camp experience.
Click here for information on the Lilly Camp Care Package, an initiative to provide diabetes camps across the country with educational resources to help children learn to manage their type 1 diabetes.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.