We’ve had a fantastic summer. Well, maybe not as fantastic as Kim and Kaitlyn: We didn’t go to Hawaii this summer (those lucky ones!), but we played a lot, went to the beach all the time, slept in, ran through the sprinklers, threw caution (and schedules) to the wind and just enjoyed being together. But I’ll tell you, already I’ve got school on my mind.
Fortunately, we just came off a completely fantastic year at school for James. It still boggles my mind that he’ll be entering fourth grade. And he’s had so many schools and schooling experiences during that short time. This year will be his first time at the same school two years consecutively. I’ll admit, this does lessen the amount of stress that I feel as September approaches.
I thought I’d just take a minute to give some “wisdom” about how to approach a new school. Since we’ve done this a few times, and since this is always a concern among the families with type 1 diabetes that I talk with, I figured it might be appropriate. Here goes:
1. Know that there are kids all over the country who are happy and safe at school. Most of the people we’ve encountered — nurses, principals and teachers — have been really helpful and have gone out of their way to make James’ educational experience positive.
2. Every parent-and-child combo does things differently at school. There isn’t any one “right” way for kids, and as long as you feel like your child is happy and safe, then that should be good enough. Kaitlyn and James have very different needs, and Kim and I even have slightly different philosophies as to what we expect at school. The most important thing is that we feel confident in the care we receive. So before you meet with school officials, really try to determine what you think would work best for you!
3. Contacting the school and letting them know your basic aims for your child is a nice step. At one of the schools James attended, I sent an email over the summer with some basic principles I wanted addressed. I underscored that we try for a very narrow range of blood sugars for James, and as a result, he needs to be tested a lot. I also mentioned that he should not be singled out from other kids wherever possible and that disruptions to his day make it difficult for him to stay focused on his schoolwork.
There were other general principles that I talked about in my initial email, and it had a nice result. When we met for our first 504 Plan meeting, the principal brought my email and had already discussed ways that his staff could help us meet James’ needs. I felt like it was a great solution, because the school worked out the details and as long as my general needs were met, I didn’t care how they were accomplished. Most importantly, it showed we were flexible and had reasons for all of our requests.
4. In your approach, be nice. Asking nicely might be all you have to do. A lot of diabetes education success relies on transmitting information properly. I’ve found that if school personnel feel that you are being unreasonable, they’ll actually stop listening. You NEED them to listen, especially if they are new to treating kids with type 1 diabetes, because much of this information will be new to them and may even contradict what they’ve heard all of their lives. Be prepared and be persistent, but start by showing them that you are a pleasure to work with. It might really help.
5. If you run into resistance, ask lots of questions. Try to understand (really and truly) their perspective as much as possible. If you don’t know what to say, ask a question. Find out as many details as you can. This helps you learn about the school and gives them proof that you care about the whole picture. Asking questions also helps me focus on not reacting too strongly if the meeting might not be going my way. These meetings can be emotional, and remembering to gather info and keep a level head is a good strategy.
6. Don’t be hesitant to accept alternate solutions that still fulfill your major aims. I had my heart set on in-classroom testing in one school, but when they offered to test next door in an empty classroom, I consented. It was better for them and still close enough to the class that it was minimally disruptive to James’ day. Realize that this might be the very best that the school can come up with. If you’ve built a positive rapport with the school, you’ll be able to recognize when they are sincerely trying to help.
7. If you do run into trouble, you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. Follow the steps above to help prepare as best you can. Most times it will work fine! But if it doesn’t, there are some people you can contact. The American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETES is a great resource, and your local JDRF chapter can help too. Don’t be afraid to seek the care you need for your child. The time and effort you put into helping your child get the care he or she needs will undoubtedly benefit the next student with type 1 who comes along. Stay calm, stay strong and remember, you are not alone.
8. Enjoy school. James is about to start his second year at a large charter school. The nurse is so competent and wonderful that it is the period of the day that I worry about him the least. Nowhere else is his caregiver so well trained, so responsive, so adaptable, so kind and intuitive. I worry about how he did on his math test, I worry about whether he’ll remember to bring his lunch box home — but I don’t worry about his care.
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.