Category Archives: School

School physicians?

School signIn a policy statement just released, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that every American school district should have a designated “school physician” to help oversee and coordinate school health programs.

Sure, you may be thinking right about now, in a perfect world that would be great. But most schools can’t afford nurses now…who’s going to pay for doctors?

The statement isn’t so much about doctors getting paid to provide direct services to students as it is about encouraging pediatricians to volunteer as advisors, school board members, team physicians, and such. Larger districts may be able to afford a paid position, but increased involvement by pediatricians in any role can provide valuable service to school districts, and perhaps even save them some money:

School physicians not only bring value to the quality of health services but also may provide a cost savings to districts, with decreased liability from physician oversight of sound school health programs. For example, school physician–coordinated concussion management programs, established climate standards for outdoor activity, or guided anaphylaxis management protocols can potentially save lives, reduce morbidity, improve outcomes, and prevent potential costly litigation against school districts.

A school physician with intimate knowledge of a district and community could be a big help in coordinating health programs in preparation for, and in the wake of disasters, both natural (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.)  and man-made (Newtown).

I’ve been involved with a variety of school health programs over the years, and it’s very rewarding. It’s nice to see the AAP encourage this in a more formal way.

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Filed under Politics, School

Guns, then and now

FirearmsBrowsing the 1968 World Book Encyclopedia (“F” volume) at my parents-in-law’s house a couple of days ago, I came across an entry titled “Firearms.” Included was the illustration at left, of the types of firearms in circulation then: automatic pistol, revolver, bolt-action rifle, a couple of shotguns. (Not sure how a Howitzer got included on the list, but God bless the old World Book for it’s quirkiness…)

Notice that none of these weapons (including the Howitzer) carried more than a half-dozen or so bullets or cartridges. It’s not that weapons with higher killing power didn’t exist in 1968. We were in the thick of the Vietnam War, after all, with its profusion of pistols, rifles, submachine guns, and the like. But nobody expected to see those weapons out on the street here at home.

Things hadn’t really changed all that much between 1776 and 1968, gun-wise. Whether you were firing your single-shot musket at the British or your “Saturday Night Special” in the middle of a 1960s bar fight, you very quickly ran out of ammunition and were forced to reload. Not so today, when the AR-15 used by the Newtown shooter reportedly had a 100-round magazine.

I was a sophomore in high school in 1968. Had someone opened fire in our lunch-time cafeteria, he might have hit a few of us before having to reload and probably being overpowered. In 2012 he could easily wipe out the whole place.

This madness has to stop.

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Filed under Guns, Politics, Safety, School, Violence

Has it come to this?

crying-childThe American Academy of Pediatrics now offers “Resources to Help Parents, Children and Others Cope in the Aftermath of School Shootings.” It’s important information, of course, but what a comment on American society that we need to have an easily accessible website–like we have for vaccinations and bike safety–ready for “the next time.”

This madness has got to stop.

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Filed under Politics, Safety, School, Violence

On schoolyards and safety…

1981444177_831ad6d4d0I wrote this essay twelve years ago, and I hadn’t thought of it in a long time. Then came this morning, and the news of the school shooting in Connecticut.


“Hey, what’s this?” John’s puzzled voice echoes from beneath an end table in the living room. “I can’t plug in the stereo. Something’s stuck in the socket.”

I hunker down, crawl in next to him and find myself face to face with an electrical outlet cover, a leftover from the days when my children couldn’t be trusted not to zap themselves curly-headed with an ill-placed paper clip or a drool-coated thumb.

I pry the round hunk of plastic from the wall and hand it to John, explaining what it was used for back in his hell-boy diaper days. He rolls it around in his hand, listening. “Did I ever try to stick anything in a socket?” he says, his voice equal parts curiosity and embarrassment.

You certainly tried, I tell him. I describe the pins and fingers and various pieces of silverware, and the howling rage that accompanied his frustration at the hands of an impregnable ten-cent piece of child safety equipment.

“Did I do anything else?” John asks, sounding a bit like Lon Chaney Jr. struggling to recall a night of mayhem under the influence of a full werewolf moon.

Oh, absolutely. I expound on the four different types of cabinet latches we installed to keep him from drinking bleach or eating toilet paper, the drawer locks that kept him out of the carving knives, and the tricky knots we added to his car seat to pin him properly in place, lest he mosey out of the van mid-freeway.

And let’s not forget the special handles on the oven to prevent self-immolation or house explosions, the gates to thwart stairwell swan dives, and the inflatable guards we kept on every spigot in the house so he wouldn’t scald himself or ram his head into the bathtub faucet.

“Boy, babies can get into a lot of trouble,” John murmurs. I place a hand on his shoulder and nod in my wise, Ward Cleaver way. But I’m not done yet.

I tell him about the door locks placed high to prevent street wandering, the yard patrols that kept banana slugs, kitty treasures, and other unwholesome foodstuffs out of his mouth, and the house plants discarded lest he gnaw through the trunk of a poisonous sapling. As a last resort we kept a special medicine on hand to make him throw up anything nasty he swallowed. It was a measure of our parenting skills, I proudly relate, that we never had to use it.

“What else?” He’s smiling a bit now, a Dennis-the-Menace-like glint in his eyes.

With suitably dramatic gestures I impart the grand finale: the toilet lid latch, put in place to keep him from diving in head first or drinking water out of the bowl.

“Gross,” John says, grimacing. “That’s what dogs do.” Dogs, I inform him as our beloved Rosie trots by with a disintegrating tennis ball in her mouth, are like toddlers who never grow up.

Then, one by one, the safety gizmos disappeared. John got past the age where he was likely to set the house on fire or go sponge diving in the toilet. The latches and handle covers broke and weren’t replaced, or were simply thrown away by parents grown weary of anticipating every possible disaster.

We scramble out from under the table, stereo-plugging mission accomplished. John tosses me the outlet cover. He scurries outside, headed next door to his friend Chris’s house, calling over his shoulder as he goes. “Well, at least you don’t have to worry about me anymore, right?”

But as he races down the sidewalk my parent brain flips into auto-anxiety mode, thinking of the thousand streets he has yet to cross, the bicycle rides in traffic, the skateboards and rollerblades and, God help me, the child snatchers and the schoolyard shooters.

I stick the outlet cover in my pocket and take a deep breath. How could I have known, as I battened down the child safety hatches so many years ago, that those would be the easy days?


Filed under Safety, School

Finger foods help prevent obesity

Filthy, yes. Fat, no.

Here’s something I’ve always felt made sense: Babies allowed to wean themselves to finger foods when they’re ready are less likely to become obese than those who continue to be exclusively spoon-fed. The simple explanation: it’s easier to learn to quit eating when you’re full if you’re the one controlling the feeding. In my experience the finger feeding phase arrives between 6 and 12 months, right at the age babies start fighting spoon feedings. (They must be reading the studies!)

Fear of choking is the concern I hear most often from parents leery of letting their babies finger feed themselves. But think of the foods typically offered as finger foods: cereal puffs, cheese, soft-cooked peas and carrots, and such. These are nearly impossible to choke on, since they quickly stick to saliva (and hair, and eyelashes, and nostrils, etc.). I challenge you – put a Cheerio in your mouth and try, try to inhale it and choke on it. You can’t, and neither can your baby.

The dangerous foods are slippery ones. Every year the leading causes of choking deaths from food are hot-dog chunks (with the skin all the way around) and whole grapes. (This usually happens to toddlers, who can grab food for themselves, and not infants, who eat what they’re given.) This is because the skin or peel makes it easy for the food object to slide to the back of the throat and block the windpipe.

Keep in mind, too, that choking and gagging are actually two very different things. Choking occurs when a solid object blocks the flow of air through the windpipe. Gagging moves food forward and away from the windpipe, and so actually protects babies from choking. It’s a good idea to take an infant CPR course so you’ll know the difference and be prepared in case of a real emergency. Most local hospitals and Red Cross chapters offer such classes.

Still, if your baby gags easily, go easy on the finger foods until a bit later. You want mealtime to be positive, and as we all have experienced at one time or another, gagging is not a pleasant sensation. The easy-gagger phase will pass in time.

In the meantime, on to finger feeding (and a jumbo under-the-high-chair ‘splat mat’!)


Filed under Natural childbirth, Newborns, School

Study: Impulsive shouters rule the world

Tomorrow's leaders today...

Oh, dear God

“Pupils who shout out in class achieve better results than their counterparts who appear to be better behaved and quiet, suggests research.

A study of primary school pupils found children who “blurt out” responses perform better in maths and English.

The Durham University study looked at 12,000 pupils in England.

‘Although it may seem disruptive, blurting out of answers clearly helps these pupils to learn,’ said report co-author Christine Merrell.”

There was a boy named Michael T. in my fifth grade class who would qualify as what the Durham study refers to as an “impulsive shouter.” I’d guess that eight or nine times out of ten the answers he blurted were wrong, but he had a zest for exuberant guessing that no amount of nun-ly discouragement could suppress.

Sister Marie Angele did not appreciate Michael’s nonstop, free-range classroom participation.  He spent a good portion of that school year on his way to, coming back from, or sitting in the principal’s office, with a paddling thrown in here and there for good measure–none of which fazed him in the least.

Wonder what he’s up to now? If the Durham study is correct, he’s probably a Fortune 500 CEO…

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Filed under Education, School

Good news for old dads!

Well done, my child.

A new study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute suggests that kids born to fathers in their 50s do just as well in school as those with 30-something dads. This contradicts a previous study which showed that geezer-dads had a negative academic impact on their offspring. Take that, whipper-snappers!

No word from the Institute, though, about the impact on an older father’s IQ (and self-esteem, for that matter) from trying to help his middle-schooler with his digital arts/robotics homework…


Filed under Fathers, School

Class, take your seats! (Or don’t.)

Sister Gertrude Dolores, my uber-strict third grade teacher with a sit-in-your-seat-now! obsession, is no doubt spinning in heaven at this item: Desks that allow children to sit or stand are useful tools in fighting obesity.

This month’s American Journal of Public Health highlights a study of “sit-stand” desks in a Texas elementary school. Allowed to freely choose to stand or sit in class, the majority of the students (70%) soon chose to stand full time. The remaining 30% stood about three-quarters of the time.

The big news: the “standers” burned 17% more calories than a comparison classroom where the students sat in traditional desks. Even better, the overweight kids burned 32% more calories than the overweight kids in the standard sitting desks. Parents and teachers reported improved classroom behavior and performance in the standing students.

Main downside is cost: sit-stand desks are about 20% more expensive than standard desks. But I’d imagine that increased demand would help reduce costs.

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Filed under Obesity, School