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So what do bugs have to do with gaps? Maybe quite a bit. When I started in school nursing, I came across lists that a savvy former nurse had kept regarding follow up for students diagnosed with “live lice”. Her record-keeping was quite telling. Children were being excluded from school for weeks at a time, the school bus would refuse to pick them up, and there weren’t enough nurses to do all the checks so there were really no guidelines as to who was diagnosing the children. I imagined her frustration as she had to deal with the issue day in and day out. Why were these practices so telling? At the time, the district had one of the highest dropout rates in the state. I couldn’t help but believe that had a lot to do with the way kids were made to feel about school early on.
Anyone who has been subjected to standing in a room full of kids having their heads checked, and then later asked to go home from school can understand the dread associated with these practices.
Does it happen this day and age? Absolutely. Scan the internet for policies related to head lice in school districts and see what practices exist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics and Harvard School of Public Health have been quite clear regarding the harm of no-nit policies and school exclusion for head lice, yet districts continue to send children home.
If you look at the children in your classroom or school struggling academically, often they are the ones with the most obstacles to overcome. That’s why the identification of “gaps” even exists. Those families living in poverty often end up living in close quarters with other extended family, sharing rooms and beds and have circumstances where lice is easily transmitted from one child to the next. Sometimes getting treatment is difficult, and since lice are often resistant to the products Medicaid and CHIP insurances are most willing to cover, the problem is not easily corrected. Parents are then often accused of neglecting to care for their children.
I had a parent (a local minister) call one time wanting to know what I was going to do to take care of the “lice problem” at his daughter’s school. In conversation I found the “problem” was that his 6 year old daughter was telling him a girl in the class had head lice and she wasn’t being treated. His complaint was that the district did not have a “no nit” policy to make sure his child wasn’t exposed. I explained to him that the school nurse would do follow up with children who have lice and his daughter would not know that he/she had been checked. I also explained that nits cannot be passed from one person to the next. His response? “I don’t want my daughter around THOSE children!” (Also bear in mind he was getting his information on what was and wasn’t being done from the perspective of a 6 year old!!)
In our jobs there are just “children”. Children who all deserve a chance. When we set them up to miss school repeatedly, we set them up for failure. When they fail, they become a burden to local resources in our communities and the cycle is perpetuated.
There is a way to deal with head lice, using national guidelines and science. It doesn’t mean ignoring the issue altogether- it means following up in a way that helps resolve the problem. It means taking a look at other practices that might be impacting the gaps in our schools and finding new approaches to intervene. The most basic of which is not looking for ways to keep them out of the classroom.
I find it helpful to use a flow chart to help keep on track with students that have ongoing issues with lice. The flow chart allows a nurse to document what treatments have been utilized, along with what teaching has occurred for parents. It won’t cure the issue- anytime children are together in one place (and can put their heads together) we will have head lice. But it can help ensure proper treatment and support for children to be where they learn best, in school!
A copy of the flow chart mentioned above can be found at:
Lice is often to blame for high emotion and distress. Hold firm to your mission of advocating and supporting all children. Follow the guidelines and remove barriers which can help in your work to reduce gaps in the children you serve.
Does it seem like your student explodes instantly?
Actually there are many signs before an explosion. This handout, The Cycle of Anger, will help you and the student recognize these signs in order to avoid the explosion.
Step 1: High Risk Situations-this identifies what was going on and where the student was when the problem started. By analyzing this data, you may notice a student always has a problem in a specific activity (math, PE, free time, etc.) or in a certain location (bathroom, hallway, music class, etc.).
Step 2: The Trigger-what happened that triggered a student? What set him off? It could be as simple as the teacher giving a direction or another student making a face.
Step 3: How are you feeling? The student’s body is giving him signals. At first, it will be difficult for the student to recognize these signals. You need to pay attention and help him identify what his body is doing. It may be increased breathing, increased heart rate, tightening of the jaw, tapping fingers on desk, etc.
Step 4: EXIT-this the first opportunity to get off the cycle of anger. What can the student do to avoid blowing up? The de-escalation strategies listed here should be want works for this student. Don’t just make a generic list. What specifically will work for this one student?
Step 5: How are you feeling now? This is similar to step 3. It’s recognizing body signals. The signals may be huffing and puffing breaths, slumped body in chair or rigid body, grumbling, etc.
Step 6: EXIT-the student has another opportunity to get off the cycle of anger. Again, what can the student do to avoid blowing up? He may need to take a walk, take a time out, etc.
Step 7: Harmful Behavior. This is what happens when the student does not use an exit behavior and get off the cycle of anger. It’s an unacceptable behavior. It may be talking back, slamming a book, fighting or threatening others. The harmful behavior will following with discipline.
Step 8: How can you avoid the problem next time? This is the whole reason for processing behavior. Step 8 should connect to Step 1. You want to encourage the student to avoid high risk situations.
Once I had a 4th grader who would yell, knock over chairs and desks. In the heat of the moment, I could only hope to contain the student to keep everyone safe. After he calmed, we reviewed what happened. We used the Cycle of Anger to help process what happened. We discovered his body was giving him signals…he squinted his eyes and squeezed his lips tightly when getting angry. We finished the worksheet and he had a consequence for his outburst. Days later, he started to get angry…his eyes squinted, his lips squeezed in a line. Because we had analyzed his behavior and body signals earlier, I was able to point out what his body was telling him. I let him know that this is the time to make good decisions (take 10 deep breaths, etc). He was surprised and was able to stop his explosion. This was a wonderful breakthrough; it was the first time he changed his behavior! We praised him and he was happy. Several days later, he again was getting angry. When he squinted his eyes and squeezed his lips, he gasped when he recognized what his body was telling him! He was able to change his behavior on his own!!! He had very few disruptions after understanding his outbursts and being able to control them.
Just the other day, a young lady in high school used the Cycle of Anger after just one introduction to it. It was her first day our program. I reviewed the Cycle of Anger and explained part of the program is understanding behavior in order to control it. Later that day, she was irritated by a boy in class. She told me she remembered the Cycle of Anger and instead of “going off”, she closed her eyes and took slow calming breaths. Now THAT’S excellent control!