Steps for Starting a Healthy School Year

By Judith C. Brinckerhoff, RN, MSN, Beauvoir Afternoon School Nurse

Healing Children: A Surgeon’s Stories from the Frontiers of Pediatric Medicine caught my eye at last year’s Beauvoir Book Fair. Our wonderful librarian, Ashley Simpson, selected this title, and it sat unread on my coffee table until this summer. The book’s author, Dr. Kurt Newman, is the President and CEO of Children’s National Medical Center. Dr.  Newman is a recognized leader in children’s health. He is a pediatric surgeon as well as a children’s behavior and mental health issues advocate. Some of you may have spent hours in his Emergency Room. A few of our parents have experienced the intense fear and fatigue of a child’s sudden or prolonged hospitalization and would readily identify with his narrative.

I first met Dr. Newman when he was a Surgical Fellow at Children’s and I was the mother of an infant in the Burn Intensive Care Unit.  Years have passed since that horror-filled two-month hospital stay.  It was a time of my life when I phoned the hospital every morning at six a.m. to speak with the burn unit nurses and ask how my daughter had done during the night. Sometimes I was too afraid to call, and I had to hand the phone to my husband. Dr. Newman’s book was a vivid reminder of the risks of injury and possibilities of serious illness that our children encounter every day. He expertly details the emotions parents experience when they are forced to confront pain, trauma, uncertainty, and perhaps a deviation from the perfectly normal life path they had dreamed for their child. I was particularly touched by the power he ascribes to parental instincts.  He admits that as a young surgeon he didn’t always listen to parents closely enough, but forty years later he devotes a chapter in the book to the power of family love and support systems, “You Never Can Tell How Far a Frog Can Jump.”

His dedication to children’s health issues inspired me to check out the Children’s National Twitter account. Topics related to playground safety, food allergies, school-based anxiety, learning differences, immunizations, concussions, asthma, and head lice are hot topics for school nurses.  On September 4, I saw a tweet that seemed especially relevant – a link to a blog post written by Dr. Newman in the August 15, 2018 Northern Virginia Magazine that outlines five steps parents should take to start a successful school year:

  1. A comprehensive head-to-toe health exam
  2. Meet your child’s teachers before the school year starts
  3. Establish sleep routines a few weeks before school starts
  4. Help your children thrive (physical and mental health)
  5. Use your best (parental) instincts throughout the school year

#1. All of you have been on the receiving end of our MAGNUS reminders for annual physical and dental exams.  Annual physical and dental examinations are a requirement for school attendance and we as a community do very well meeting that goal.  The District of Columbia Department of Health maintains an Immunization Compliance Registry and notifies Beauvoir on a regular basis of our immunization compliance status.  Last year we achieved a 100 per cent rating.  Flu season is upon us and we are already hearing from families that they have vaccinated their children.

#2. We hold Hopes and Dreams conferences the first week of school to meet the expectations outlined in the second step. Our faculty and families listen to concerns and set a positive tone for the school year.  Back to School Night, Mid-Year, and Final Conferences are an established tradition at Beauvoir.

#3. Establish sleep routines a few weeks before the start of school caught my attention.  I often see charts with sleep recommendations, but this one required a second and third read. I thought it might be valuable to highlight the recommendations.

Child Age
Sleep Duration
(Day vs Night)
0-2 12-16 Day and night
3-6 11-13 Night
And one nap
6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.
7-11 10.5-11.5 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

We know that adequate sleep helps our children negotiate the tasks of the school day. The well-rested child is available for learning and resilient on the playground.  If we are to follow the recommendation for 11-13 hours of sleep at night, our pre-K, K and most first grade friends would be home, fed, bathed, brushed, and snuggled in bed with a story by 6:30 pm. I would say this is a challenge for many families and certainly worth some future discussion.

The Beauvoir faculty and staff are here to support you with #1 (physicals), #2 (parent-teacher conferences), #4 (physical assessments/developmental counseling), and are committed to #5 (respecting your parental instincts).  But how can we help make sure our Beauvoir friends get adequate nightly rest? Stay tuned to our blog for more thoughts, ideas, and discussion on this and other matters of student health and wellness.

Welcome to a new school year!