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Success Begins with a School-Wide Commitment

by Donna Powell, Assistant Principal, and Cathy Cyr, Teachers, Muriel Martin Elementary School, St. Albert Protestant Schools

Promising Practices in Special Education
Life-threatening Allergies (anaphylaxis) June 1996, Vol.2:3, Alberta Education Special Education Branch

One of the mottos of Muriel Martin Elementary School in St. Albert is "Helping Each Other and Being Responsible." Nowhere is this more evident than in the approach the school has taken to meet the needs of students with severe life-threatening allergies (anaphylaxis). 

"Probably the thing that helps me feel most comfortable is knowing I have the full support of the administration here," states Cathy Cyr, a Grade 1 teacher who has a student with a severe allergy to peanut products in her class. "We'd all prefer not to be involved with medical issues, but in the end you do what you have to do. But I never feel that I am on my own. We have a very supportive administration," she adds. 

The administration at Muriel Martin has created a practical approach to dealing with the eight students in the school of about 600 who carry EpiPens (adrenalin kits) for anaphylaxis. last fall, they hosted an Asthma and Allergy Workshop for the entire staff at the school, including teachers, secretaries, maintenance staff and school supervisory personnel. "Our goal was to heighten awareness about asthma and allergies and discuss the best ways to deal with them. In the end, the workshop was a breath of fresh air in that it really helped us lay out fears to rest," remarks Assistant Principal Donna Powell. 

Although administrators want teachers to know how to manage the rare medical emergencies that may arise, they have been adamant about removing all medications (except EpiPens and inhalers) from the classroom. All medications are now stored in the office and are distributed by one of the school secretaries, who also keeps detailed medication records and coordinates medical treatments with parents and physicians. 

Each fall, the teachers and administrators review the entire list of students at the school and discuss those who are medically at risk. "We want all the teachers to know that these kids exist, that they're in our school," Donna remarks. To keep the issue front and centre, Donna schedules the first 10 minutes of each staff meeting for medical updates on students. 

Through its parent resource centre, the school is educating the larger parent population on a wide range of issues. Here, parents can check out books and videotapes on topics such as parenting, nutrition, and child health and safety issues. Recently, materials on allergies and anaphylaxis were prepared for the centre. 

Students are also being made aware of anaphylaxis through school-wide events such as a "Celebrating our Differences" day. At this event, an allergy and asthma booth was one of many set up throughout the school, and personnel from the Allergy/Asthma Association were on hand to provide information and answer student questions. There are "peanut-free" tables in the lunchroom where students can join their friends for lunch. "All my students take it quite seriously. They tend to be very aware and cuatious for one another," adds Cathy. 

When Cathy speaks with other teachers about having a students with a severe allergy in the classroom, she believe in using a common-sense approach. "My advice is to educate yourself about anaphylaxis. Try using an EpiPen. It certainly isn't hard to use. But most of all it's important not to overreach. As frightening as it might seem, it is still very manageable," she says. 

While the staff at Muriel Martin generally feel comfortable with the system they have in place, they are continuing to make procedural modifications. They would like to see all students with anaphylaxis wear Medic-Alert bracelets and carry EpiPens at all times. They are also working on establishing a "buddy system" so that each student who is at risk for severe allergic reactions has a partner who is informed about the symptoms and treatment of anaphylaxis. But most of all, they believe in the importance of making a school-wide commitment to the safety and well-being of each of their 600 students. With a motto like "Helping Each Other and Being Responsible," how could it be any other way? 

Current Practices 

  • Medicines administered by office staff 
  • Staff updates at monthly staff meetings 
  • Peanut-free table in lunch room 
  • Allergy workshops with teachers, secreataries, maintenance workers and supervisory personnel 
  • Parent education through newsletters and parent resource centre 
  • Students carry EpiPens® 
  • Pictures posted throughout the school 
Proposed Practices 
  • Students wear Medic-Alert® bracelets 
  • A buddy system that pairs students at risk with other students within a class 
  • Students at risk for anaphylaxis carry EpiPens in waist packs at all times 
  • Additional EpiPens located in the office 
  • Schedule mini-workships for staff throughout the year 

The Awareness Series, which includes "A Teacher's Guide to Allergies," is available from Alberta Education's Learning Resources Distributing Centre (780) 427-5775 at a cost of $5.15 + GST. The series includes 15 brochures. 

For additional copies, contact the Special Education branch. Copyright Alberta Education 1996. Permission is given to reproduce this article for educational purposes and on a non-profit basis.

For more information contact:

Calgary Allergy NetworkWebsite: 

Lilly Byrtus, Allergy/Asthma Information Association 
16531 - 114 Street, Edmonton, AB T5X 3V6 
Phone/Fax (780) 456-6651  Email: [email protected]

Donna Powell, Assistant Principal, Muriel Martin Elementary School 
110 Deer Ridge Drive, St. Albert AB T8N 5Z3 
Phone: (780) 458-0205 Fax: (780) 458-0662 

Special Education Branch 
10th floor, East Devonian Bldg., 11160 Jasper Ave. 
Edmonton, AB T5K 0L2, Phone: (780) 422-6326 Fax: (780) 422-2039 

Terms of Use: The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is for your general information only. We cannot be held responsible for anything you could possibly do or say because of information on this site.   Consult your family physician or allergist for specific questions or concerns. 


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