School health officials encourage acquiring healthy habits before returning to school

Many students in Merced County have kissed summer vacation goodbye, and those who haven’t will do so in the next few weeks. Typically, high on the back-to-school checklist are school supplies and a new pair of shoes. But what about a back-to-school checkup at the doctor’s office?

Dave Autore, a school nurse with the Merced County Office of Education, recommends parents start preparing their children physically and mentally a few weeks before the beginning of the school year.

First, parents should make sure their children’s immunizations and checkups are up to date, Autore said. According to the California Department of Education, students entering kindergarten are required to have a number of shots prior to enrollment, including vaccinations for polio, chickenpox and hepatitis B. Students this age are also required to have visited the dentist at least once, Autore said.

Also under state requirements, students entering the seventh grade must show proof of their whooping cough vaccination.

“Most parents are aware of this, but every once in a while, we do run into students who do not have the required vaccinations, so we always have to check up on that,” Autore said.

Tjesca Alvares, health services coordinator for Le Grand Elementary School, said many of the student visits to her office are asthma-related. She recommends that parents obtain a doctor’s note so that their child can carry an inhaler during school hours. If the child does not have a written doctor’s consent, the inhaler is kept at the nurse’s office or with staff, Alvares explained. And the same rule applies to over-the-counter medicine. Students are required to have a doctor’s note to carry common medication such as aspirin.

Another issue particular to this time of year are allergies. According to Autore, respiratory problems tied to allergens in the air is a big issue in Merced County.

“Late summer, early fall – it’s almond season,” Autore said, “and the almonds are being shaken off trees. We usually see a lot of kids with runny noses during this time of year.”

Autore explained that many times, parents will give their children allergy medication in the morning, causing the child to be drowsy throughout the day. In these instances, Autore suggests that parents communicate with the school nurse and the child’s teacher, so that staff is aware of the situation. Recently, school nurses have also noticed an increase in food allergies, especially peanut allergies, he said.

Autore asks parents to notify school officials about their child’s food allergies so that cafeteria staff can plan accordingly and prepare alternatives.

Besides arranging checkups, Alvares also suggests that parents encourage students to acquire healthier sleeping and eating habits. Because many students are accustomed to later bedtimes during the summer, they can have a hard time getting used to school hours.

“In the beginning of the school year, we see students, especially the young ones, having trouble adjusting to school,” Alvares said. “They come in here (the nurse’s office) simply because they’re tired.” She suggests having students start going to bed at an earlier time one week prior to the first day of school.

Eating a balanced breakfast is also critical for students to focus in the classroom, she said. Most schools offer a breakfast and lunch program, and schools such as Le Grand Elementary also offer a Second Chance Breakfast program, in which students can have a healthy snack before lunchtime.

According to Autore, eating breakfast can also help students with headaches. “The most frequent cause of headaches is dehydration; they should really eat and drink something before they leave to school. If a student has a headache or is hungry in class, they’re mostly likely not paying attention,” he said.