School with Type 1: The Parent + Teacher Journey
A parent’s story …
Sending your child to school for the first time is a huge milestone for families. Typically, your kiddo turns 5 years old, you buy a cute outfit, a new lunch box and send them off to start this new adventure; unless of course, your child has type 1 diabetes. Right before Mason turned 4 years old, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. So, when kindergarten rolled around, there were a million different scenarios to anticipate and prepare for months prior to the first day of school. Scary thoughts flooded my mind … Will he be accepted or will his peers tease him? What if he goes low, nobody notices and he dies? Will Mason learn how to self advocate and listen to his body? Will he survive ALL the germs in school, especially during flu season? So, when we started Mason’s school career I was scared. I had tirelessly prepared for Mason to be able to make it comfortably through the day that I had completely forgotten to buy him that outfit and new lunch box.
A teacher’s perspective …
Preparing my classroom in August is one of my favorite teacher tasks … I’m often awake at night thinking of all the things I need to prepare, returning emails to anxious parents with questions/concerns and thinking of ways to make my classroom warm and inviting. When I received news that I would be receiving a child with type 1 diabetes, all my “regular” teacher planning energy came to a slow crawl and I began wondering … What exactly is type 1 diabetes? How can I teach AND be aware of a child’s blood sugar level? Will I get an aide or nurse to help? Will my principal support me? How do I make Mason and his parents feel safe when I am SO incredibly new at this? I quickly decided that I needed to meet with the family so I can begin learning about type 1.
Parent: And so the journey begins! Over the summer we met with his teacher, Mrs. Tara Nye, and provided her with much information about Mason and type 1. I knew we were lucky when we walked in on the first day of school and saw that Mrs. Nye bought Beyond Type 1 bracelets to wear in support of Mason. Since Mason is in a K-1 program, he also has another teacher, Mrs. Deanna Hose. Both teachers were so supportive in implementing different ways to support Mason in the classroom.
Teacher: Meeting with the family was informative. I began reading and understanding the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes—a starting point! I quickly learned that Mason’s parents were more than willing to answer all my questions and that we both shared the value of communication and collaboration—a fast friendship began! Erin, Mason’s Mom, was incredibly patient with me as I began texting day and night with questions and ideas. I am a problem solver … that’s just who I am …
When Samantha keeps forgetting to bring snack, I will ask her to write home a reminder. When Jose is being labeled as aggressive, I will ask him to pass out bandaids and sit with classmates who are sad. So, my problem solving brain kicked in overtime as I began thinking of strategies and interventions to help Mason stay emotionally and physically safe in this new big world—school! I knew one thing for sure … I wanted Mason and his family to feel how dedicated I was to making sure that he was cared for (like I would with my very own child), so I proudly wore my type 1 bracelet the first week of school. I also began thinking of each part of our school day and how it may or may not impact Mason … such as, playing on the playground, birthday treats, snack, lunchtime, lock-downs and fire drills. And also, how can I make sure he feels supported and embraced through his personal journey with type 1 diabetes? I love a challenge and this was surely a big one!
Parent: Upon reflection, I realized that each of the concerns that kept me up at night were thoughtfully addressed by his teachers and school personnel with much dedication and love. One fear was: Will Mason feel accepted and be able to access all that school has to offer? A few things were implemented which addressed this concern. Mrs. Nye sent home a form to each child who had upcoming birthdays so Mason’s nurse could prepare in advance and that he could fully participate during each class celebration. They also encouraged and allowed Mason and I to speak to his peers about diabetes. Mason’s teachers empowered his peers to not only ask questions, but also, learn ways to help Mason if he felt low or needed help. On a larger scale, the entire school participated in World Diabetes Day by wearing blue and ribbons. The school also learned about the important work of Dr. Fredrick Banting. Clearly, Mason’s school was dedicated to spreading awareness about type 1 diabetes—a real gift!
Download a school presentation about type 1 diabetes here.
Parent: What if he goes “low”?
What if he goes low, nobody notices and he dies? To begin, Mrs. Nye spoke to the entire staff prior to the beginning of the school year, told them about Mason and about the importance of keeping an extra eye out for him while on yard duty. A large photo of Mason was placed in the staff lounge (and remained there all year long) so everyone would remember who he is and how to best care for him on the playground. In addition, the staff was offered training on how to properly administer glucagon. This is critical in the event of a real diabetes emergency. Even more amazing was when the Principal, Ms. Lori Aoun supported families of type 1 at our school by requesting low supplies for each classroom on campus, in the event of a lockdown. The PTA fully funded these low supply packs and every teacher was trained on how to help students with type 1, in the event of a lockdown.
Parent: Will he be able to advocate for himself?
Will Mason learn how to self-advocate and listen to his body? This was addressed in several ways. Mrs. Nye provided Mason with visuals on his desk to remind him to bring his supplies and reinforced him when he remembered independently. In addition, the schools RSP teacher provided small visual cards with symptoms of high and low blood sugar for Mason to reference when he got his blood sugar checked. This helped increase Mason’s self-awareness and in turn, helped him to self-advocate. When Mason began to feel his symptoms and communicated it to his teacher, he proudly brought home awards and prizes for paying attention to his body.
Parent: Will he survive germ exposure?
Will Mason survive ALL the germs in school, especially during flu season? His teachers began by sending out a heartfelt email to the families and asked them to kindly inform them if their child was ill so we could decide whether or not to send Mason to school. During flu season, the teachers implemented a strict cleaning and sanitizing process frequently throughout the day.
Teacher: With each type 1 “problem” or “area of personal growth” that emerged as the school year progressed, I had no doubt that Erin and I had the trust and creative energy to provide Mason with the support he needed to grow. As I closed up my classroom most Friday afternoons and walked to my car, I often thought and felt strangely guilty that I had two days off from thinking about type 1 diabetes and blood glucose levels—a respite that countless parents, children and adults touched by type 1 do not get at the end of each work week. Being Mason’s teacher has taught me SO much about the power of resiliency—it is, in essence, the emotional “insulin” fueled by love, commitment and the strong desire to thrive and live—REALLY live!
Parent: Our family is very aware that this level of support is not often the case in many schools. Our kids with type 1 often face difficult situations and receive little support. We feel so grateful to have our school making sure kids with type 1 are fully supported and able to access education, just as their peers do. And while we know this is almost never the situation; we hope families know that it IS possible! It takes a lot of work to create a supportive community and to ensure that our kids can live Beyond diabetes, but it can be done. Our school goes above and beyond to ensure Mason is safe and emotionally supported and we are BEYOND thankful.
Erin Gottis resides in Northern California with her husband Matthew and their two children, Mason and Violette. She has worked in special education providing behavioral services for the past 15 years to children both inside and outside of the classroom. During her off time she produces custom art pieces. She is also determined to spread awareness about the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, and uses social media to document the journey of her son Mason who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 3. You can follow their journey on Facebook at @MasontheMighty or on Instagram @1mightytype1family.
Tara Nye has been an elementary school teacher in Sacramento City Unified School District for the past 18 years. She is a proud mom of two young teenagers and three rescue dogs. When she is not teaching, she enjoys family time, movies, hiking and visiting her happy place—the beach!