Back to School season means more than just sending your child back into the classroom. It also means establishing positive relationships with your child’s school. One of the most important people helping manage your child’s type 1 diabetes (T1D) is their school caregiver.
Meet Jeanette Weppner, L.P.N., the Crawford County Missouri R-1 Elementary and Middle School Nurse and Assistant Volleyball Coach. When Madison Louderman was diagnosed with T1D at the age of eight, Jeanette played an important role in helping manage Madison’s T1D. Madison is Jeanette’s first student and athlete to be diagnosed with T1D, and two more students were diagnosed shortly after. Jeanette has been an integral part in these three students’ lives. She continues to thrive as a school nurse and coach and is always updating herself on the latest technology and research advances. Read a Q&A with Jeanette and JDRF intern Olivia Louderman.
What background knowledge on T1D did you have before working with students with T1D? How did your knowledge change after working directly with students with T1D?
I learned about T1D in nursing school, but before working in the school setting, I worked in a nursing home and had mostly dealt with type 2 diabetes (T2D). Dealing with the elderly in the nursing home setting was a lot different than home care and T1D. They ate what was provided for them, and I checked blood glucose levels one hour after eating. Now, I help three students who all manage their diabetes differently. Whether it be texting parents or giving insulin shots, the difference of managing T1D versus T2D took a lot of getting used to. I have learned a lot over the last four years.
There are many schools that don’t have school nurses available to help students with T1D, which means that teachers are the primary caregivers to students in school. What are things teachers need to be aware of when they have a student with T1D in their class?
It is very scary to think the teacher is responsible for such needs. They may not be as keen on recognizing very important signs and symptoms regarding hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. They will need to know these signs and understand this student may need to be out of class often, possibly need a modified work plan, more bathroom breaks, water bottles, snacks in class, a private area for blood glucose monitoring and a buddy to help monitor this student while at recess or during other activities. Also, they need to be trained in glucagon injections, blood glucose checks and insulin injections. It is critical for all teachers in contact with diabetes to become trained in all of these aspects.
What have you learned by helping students with T1D?
All of the students do not have the same reaction to treatment; each is different in how he or she takes care of him- or herself, and the level of independence in each is very different. Also, diet and close monitoring are key.
One of the most difficult things for parents is trusting others to help take care of their child with T1D. What advice would you give or what would you tell parents of kids with T1D, especially newly diagnosed?
They will need to take baby steps. They may not need to, want to or be able to “let go.” Being able to communicate openly with the person caring for the student with T1D in the parent’s absence helps. Parents should educate the person who will be taking care of the student. It also helps to have the parents watch the caregiver and student monitor and dose. Parents should keep in mind that not everyone in the school is knowledgeable about their child’s T1D, so educating teachers and faculty is important.
Madison is pretty lucky to also have you as her volleyball coach because you are aware of how exercise can affect blood-sugar levels. What kind of advice can you give to coaches who have players living with T1D?
I have actually trained some of her other coaches. Keep snacks handy, remind her to check her blood-glucose levels, watch her closely, know her well and allow her to sit and eat when she needs to. Coaches need to remember the signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.
What advice could you give to nurses who don’t have experience with students living with T1D?
Be willing to learn, listen to the parents and the student, read all of the doctor’s orders and call the doctor if necessary. It’s better to ask questions than to be quiet. The parent wants to know you understand exactly what is going on.
What do you hope for T1D in the future? How do you think JDRF can help?
I am far more aware of JDRF since I have had three students living with T1D in a short period of time. I’ve learned that early detection of T1D is key, and I know JDRF does its best to make everyone aware of the signs and symptoms. Thanks to JDRF and its websites, I can easily access literature and material for training purposes. I support JDRF and its work toward lessening the burden of T1D.