As the new school year gets rolling again, it’s easy to see how the physical lists for supplies and schedules will help prepare our students for a successful year, but as a heart-parent, what can we do to help our students when CHD and school come together?
This year, I am entering my eleventh year as a teacher, but this will be my first year as a parent of a student, who just so happens to have complex CHD.
The one, overall theme that I can push to help make this year a great school year is communication! Now, if that seems too simple or obvious, let me give you a few ways that communication can benefit your heart kid.
Communicate with the school nurse and administration to set up and update a health plan or 504 plan. Decide what will be important for your child’s school year. Will they need a space to rest if they fatigue easily? Will they need access to a water bottle at all times? Will there be extended absences that may require home-bound services or may usually qualify as truancy? It is also a great time to make sure your child’s school has both an up-to-date Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and an emergency cardiac response plan in place.
Decide if you’d like to communicate with your student’s classmates. You can choose how much detail you’d like to go into. For example, many children with heart defects may be more likely to get and share common respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Having a note go home from the teacher or nurse mentioning some basic information would help ensure that classmates are washing their hands regularly, cleaning their shared and personal spaces frequently, and either staying home or communicating when they are sick.
As a teacher, I have always tried to make sure to keep an open line of communication with families of students. If I were only to call a parent when there was something negative to talk about, they would most likely stop answering and returning my calls. Likewise, if I were to only contact my child’s teacher about the location of his missing gloves, lunchbox, left shoe, etc., I may not be seen as making my communication worthwhile. Also, find the preferred way to communicate with the contacts at the school. Whether it will be email, phone calls, or even sending notes in with your student, most staff members at a school will set aside time to respond relatively quickly.
Children with chronic illness, regardless of the type, miss school more frequently than their peers. Since the attendance patterns children form in school are closely linked to their ability to successfully maintain a job as an adult, communicate with your care team to attempt to make medical appointments before or after school, and if this is not possible, to work with your child’s teacher to find a time where the least core curriculum will be missed.
Make sure to talk to your student about their day! This is the best way to find out if there is a common theme of things going well or where difficulties may be occurring. Also, share with them their health plans or accommodations that may be in place for them, so that they may know what to expect. Encourage them to advocate for themselves and their needs, as they will know their own limitations. Lastly, remind them to have fun and learn all they can, because as Einstein said “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
Nolan lives in Duluth, Minnesota with his wife Jess (Marketing Coordinator for PCHA), their son Barrett “Bear” and their dogs Bailey and Penny. Nolan has been an elementary school educator for over a decade and is currently teaching 4th Grade. Nolan enjoys baseball, golf, playing guitar, kayaking, and spending time with his family.