Back to School

schooltimeLearn from the Pros: Getting Ready for the School Year

This month, we’re featuring local professionals who will offer some wisdom and guidance about how to start the school year off right. Bonnie Hillman Shay of Mariposa Creative Solutions will give us some ideas of staying organized. Ellen Feldman of CEL and Associates will discuss some ideas for navigating parenting agreements. Dr. Mike Unger will give some advice on influenza “flu” shots. Finally, Amyra Weissberg Henry, LCSW, ACSW will give you tools for how to navigate the beginning of school with a special needs child.


Back to School. Back to Basics

Bonnie Hillman Shay – Mariposa Creative Solutions

Start with a Clean Slate

If you didn’t do it when school was out, clean out backpacks and tidy up launch pad areas. Have kids clean out their desks and set up for homework. A few new desk accessories might help to motivate them.

Kids’ Artwork

Have you cleared last year’s art work from the refrigerator and bulletin boards to make room for the coming year? Now is a good time to do that.

Do you find it hard to decide what of your kids’ artwork and schoolwork to save? How about asking yourself “If my Mom showed this to me, would I care?”

You can always take a digital photo of your kids’ artwork to save the sentimentality of it and let go of the original piece.

Photo Tradition

Make a habit of snapping a photo of your kids on the first day of school each year for your photo collection. Fun to see your kids grow through the years and show their anticipation of the coming school year.


Navigating Parenting Agreements

Ellen Feldman, JD – CEL and Associates

Without rushing the quiet relaxing days of summer, let’s anticipate the beginning of the school year so that it can be less stressful. Juggling activities, transfer from elementary school to middle school or high school, different bedtimes are all cumbersome enough when mom and dad are married. Adding the complication of divorce and co-parenting adds another layer of stress. As mediators, we always suggest that parents revisit their parenting plan in July or August before school begins. To anticipate changing schedules, we find it easier to suggest that our couples sit down together to discuss things before the start of school. If they are not able to do this on their own, mediation is always a good plan and required before couples go back to court to make changes or complain about their divorce decree.

Parenting time may need to change to accommodate different times for the school bus or activities. Mom or dad may need to adjust a work schedule or the babysitter’s responsibilities may need to increase. One of the children may want to sign up for travel soccer instead of park district soccer. That may change parenting responsibilities or the amount of money parents are putting into a joint account to pay for activities. We often suggest maintaining a joint account as a way to anticipate children’s activities, school registration fees, after-copay doctor visits and religious school or activities. As part of the annual review of the parenting plan, we suggest revisiting the way parents are allocating expenses if more or less money is necessary to support the children.

Mediation is a way to resolve conflict without involving attorneys or the court system. We help the couple, during divorce or post-decree, to focus on the best interests of their children. With a neutral party in the room, facilitating conversation and offering different views on an issue, it is often easier for mom and dad to hear each other and come to a resolution. We focus on new ways to communicate with each other. Parents do not have to stay married to each other, but they do need to continue to be good parents for their children for years to come. Anticipating the school year in an amicable way will keep them sitting together at soccer games, and in the future, graduations and weddings.


So what is Influenza, really?  I’m glad I asked!

Dr. Mike Unger – Allied Healthcare Associates

Well, let’s start with what it isn’t, shall we?

It’s not a diarrheal illness (i.e.  “The Stomach Flu”).  Your flu shot is not going to prevent you from getting these gastrointestinal illnesses, which are correctly called “Gastroenteritis”.  When you get “The Runs”, it has nothing to do with any flu of any kind.  It’s a colloquial term which has misrepresented the illness on a goliath scale.

It’s not a bad cold, which is caused by a multitude of viruses.  Your flu shot is not going to stop you from getting the typical upper respiratory illnesses.  A lot of people think their flu shot “doesn’t work” because they still get sick over the winter.  The influenza vaccine only prevents influenza and nothing else.

So what is Influenza?

Influenza is a potentially life threatening acute respiratory illness, mainly caused by Influenza A or B viruses that occurs in outbreaks and epidemics worldwide, in the winter season.

Influenza, although acutely debilitating, is almost always a self-limited illness (i.e.  it goes away on its own).  We call this “uncomplicated influenza” and is the typical influenza we see in most people.  However, in certain “at risk” populations (and sometimes even in healthy people), Influenza can be deadly.  The very young, the very old, people with chronic illnesses and people with underlying heart or lung problems (i.e.  heart disease, asthma, emphysema) can be killed by Influenza.

Between 25,000 and 35,000 people die every winter in the United States from Influenza.

There are 2 drugs available which are active against both Influenza A and B.  They are called Zanamivir and Oseltamivir.  It should be understood that anti-viral medications are in their infancy, in the world of medicine, and do not obliterate the virus like anti-biotics do when we treat bacterial illness.

When initiated promptly, antiviral therapy can shorten the duration of symptoms by 1-3 days; the benefit is greatest when given within the first 24-30 hours and in patients with fever at initial presentation.  Little or no benefit has been demonstrated when treatment is initiated 2 days or more after the onset of illness. However, a patient survey found that only 13% of patients called their doctor within 48 hours of the onset of influenza-like symptoms!

Since Influenza is a potentially lethal illness, it behooves us to vaccinate against it, both to protect the vaccinated patient and to prevent that person from passing the illness to someone else who might die from it.

Thus, the CDC develops a Flu Vaccine each year.  Based on immunological and epidemiological data, they attempt to “guess” what strain of flu will dominate each season.  They then create a vaccine against the 3-4 most likely viruses. The CDC is not always right in their guessing, to be sure, but given the difficult science involved, they are pretty damn good!

Flu shots are ordinarily distributed starting in October, to ensure that the body has a chance to respond to the vaccine and have antibodies available to fight the flu when flu-season strikes us (ordinarily December until April).  It takes a couple weeks for the body to develop a strong immune response, so try to get your shot before the end of the year if possible!!

Do they work?

Absolutely.  In most years, the vaccine is 80% or better to prevent influenza.  Also, those individuals who do happen to get their flu shot, and still get influenza, usually get a much more mild and short-lived version of the illness.

So who should get vaccinated?

Well, we used to advise vaccination only for individuals at risk for the serious complications of Influenza. As of 2010, the CDC now recommends universal vaccination of all individuals older than 6 months of age. As a physician who has studied vaccines for decades, I strongly recommend vaccination of all people who can safely get the vaccine.

Good Health!

Dr Mike


Back-to-School Tips for Children with Special Needs

Amyra Weissberg Henry, LCSW, ACSW 

The joys of summer are fully upon us, but the new school year is actually just around the corner. For most students, the beginning of school is characterized by feelings of excitement and perhaps some trepidation. A new school year means new teachers, academic challenges, concerns about social acceptance, and perhaps even a new school building. Children with special needs rely upon established routines and structure in order to function most effectively at home, school and in the community. Careful planning and a strong parent-school partnership will increase the likelihood of a good start and an overall positive school year for the challenged student.

  • Throughout the summer, parents should emphasize enjoyable aspects of school. Remember that your child takes his/her cues from you. Your enthusiasm will help positively frame your child’s school experience!
  • Teach and rehearse daily home and school routines in order to minimize frustration and to promote the development of maximal independence and self-esteem through mastery. Changes in routine can be very difficult, so don’t forget to institute an earlier bedtime schedule at least one week before the start of school.
  • The implementation of effective organizational strategies is vital for your challenged child.  Strategies may include use of an assignment notebook, assistive technology and the designation of a “school station” at home for visual schedules, supplies, books, backpacks and lunches.
  • Schedule a school tour for your child to meet the new teacher and visit the new classroom and/or new school building. With the help of the teacher, practice the arrival and departure routines and locate vital school areas, i.e. locker, bathroom, hallways, cafeteria, gym, auditorium and playground. Depending upon your child’s needs, take photos to be used to create a visual schedule and social narratives regarding school routines and expected school behaviors.
  • Help your child create an “All About Me” portfolio, to be shared with his classmates.  The portfolio should contain photos and information about family members, pets, favorite activities, movies and books, vacations, as well as talents and interests.
  • Before school starts, schedule a parent-teacher conference to meet the new teacher. Bring a copy of the current IEP and discuss its implementation. Do not underestimate the importance of establishing a collaborative relationship and good communication from the very outset.
  • Determine a method of school to home communication, such as a daily notebook that goes back and forth, emails, phone calls and face to face meetings. Discuss the frequency of such contacts, keeping in mind the importance of having reasonable expectations about teacher availability.
  • Create a “What Works” notebook for the educational team, comprised of helpful information regarding medical and personal care issues, strengths and weaknesses, effective learning and behavioral strategies and rewards, as well as personal preferences. Keep this information updated, and verbally communicate any impactful changes related to your child or the family in a timely manner.
  • Make a classroom presentation about your child’s challenges and needs.  Peers should have the opportunity to ask questions and, to the greatest extent possible, include your child’s participation in the discussion.
  • Organization and planning will help bolster the parent-school alliance. Create and maintain a special education binder, arranged chronologically, that contains all school and private evaluations, IEPs and related documents, as well as a communication log, that documents dates, times and content of phone calls, emails, notes home, parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings.
  • Become an active participant in the school, e.g. as an event volunteer, room parent or field trip chaperone. These activities will help you forge important relationships with educational staff and other parents. Your participation will also increase awareness and appreciation of diversity and inclusion both in the school and in the greater community.