Ensuring a Healthy Start to the School Year

Published on August 29, 2019

Organizing textbooks and setting up classrooms? Sure. Buying pencils, notebooks, and first-day-of-school outfits? Of course.

But stocking Band-Aids and updating immunizations?

Prepping the health clinics in 36 Arlington Public Schools buildings and ensuring every child is ready to enter school is an important part of preparing for the first day of school on Sept. 3.

"We really are trying to get students ready for school, identify their health needs, and then get those needs ready to be taken care of during school," said School Health Bureau Chief Sarah N. Bell.

The School Health Bureau (SHB)—part of the Public Health Division of Arlington County Department of Human Services—includes 21 Public Health Nurses and 37 School  Health Aides, but its work is not regulated to the clinic alone.

Sure, staff has been stocking medical supplies, equipment and emergency kits in each school building this summer—after all, the clinics saw more than 130,000 student visits last school year. But students' medical needs sometimes stretch beyond the clinic doors, and so the School Health Bureau is also responsible for training APS staff.

Sometimes that work is schoolwide, like teaching every APS staff member how to administer Epinephrine. Sometimes the training is more specialized, like teaching a student's educational team how to issue emergency seizure medication.

SHB staff has also been working closely with APS staff to ensure that every student's immunization and l health documents are up to date and in compliance with state law. "We are constantly communicating with APS so they can communicate with families," Bell said. "What we don't want is for any child to be excluded on the first day of school."

Staff members spent the summer reviewing the file of every APS student for the 2019-2020 school year. Where a child does not have all the required immunizations — and hasn't been formally exempted for medical or other reasons — or has not submitted a physical, the School Health Bureau reaches out to the family directly and works with APS to reach out to that family to bring that child into compliance.

If a child hasn't had a physical, the School Health Bureau can help connect them to a pediatrician—the main goal for SHB is that every child has a "medical home". Otherwise, a Public Health Physician can conduct the physical exam at the Health Appraisal Clinic. The Health Appraisal Clinic is only open one day a week for three hours, but since July 1 the Public Health Physician has conducted almost 50 physicals. "We actually had to open up several more clinic spots this year to accommodate those students," Bell said. "We want to make sure those physicals get done and the kids have what they need."

The Department of Human Services runs immunization clinics three times a week, with the School Health Bureau staffing the clinic Tuesdays from 3-6:30 p.m. Families can go to the clinic to get their children all the required school vaccines free of charge.

"We always see a dramatic increase in visits to the immunization clinic in August and September in the run up to the start of school," Bell said.

Last school year, fewer than 30 students did not have their TDAP vaccinations up to date by the first day.

"We have really good compliance rates here in Arlington, and I think that's a credit to the really great relationship and communication between us and APS," Bell said.