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How to Avoid Being Ill-Prepared for a Sick Child

Schoolwork: Parents should contact teacher so the student receives missed assignments. Homework may be a welcome diversion during recovery.

January 26, 1998|JOHN CANALIS and REGINA HONG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a parent home with a sick child, the top priority is to dab lotion on that itchy chickenpox rash, hand out tissues for the sniffles or serve lots of juice to fight those flu germs. But what about all that missed schoolwork?

Few teachers expect kids to complete all of their missed assignments. And most say they are willing to adapt the work for the child's situation. But it is up to the parent to contact the teacher and make sure that the sick child receives the homework assignments, educators said.

"It probably won't happen unless the parent takes the initiative," said Edmund Carbine, principal of Mountain Meadows Elementary School in Moorpark. "The teacher won't be aware of how long the student will be out without the parent letting them know."

Children who are very ill might not be up to schoolwork and might be too weak to do much more than watch a bit of TV. But as they recover, they will probably be bored and will welcome a bit of diversion, educators say.

The first step for parents is to call the school and make arrangements with teachers to pick up the child's assignments. If work schedules are prohibitive, they might call on relatives, neighbors or friends to help out.

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It is imperative to check with the school often--even daily--during the child's absence, teachers say. That way, the student's work can be graded and returned so that their progress can be monitored during their days or weeks at home.

For elementary-age children, practice in simple reading, writing and arithmetic will help prevent them from falling below grade level.

"I expect my children to make up the work, otherwise there are gaps in learning," said Gloria Moore, a second-grade teacher at Loma Vista Elementary School in Ventura.

Even sick children can read short passages or have parents read to them, Moore said. The students can also do many science projects at home, she added.

A good way to practice writing is for students to keep a journal recording events while they are ill: visits to the doctor, for example. Students who are too ill to write can use tape recorders to capture their thoughts and transcribe them later.

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Middle and high school students can pace themselves with makeup work, depending on how their recovery is going.

Under a program called Home Hospital Intervention Instruction, students throughout Ventura County can ask their district to provide them with home schooling if they have a temporary disability or illness that makes it impossible or inadvisable to attend school.

The districts require a note from the doctor and, in return, typically provide about five hours a week of home schooling. A child who is achy or weak might be able to study for only short periods of time--an hour or so a day.

Carmen Howard, a nurse for the Moorpark Unified School District, said how much a parent pushes a achy child to do homework depends on the child's temperament, age and level of sickness.

Older students will have more patience and individual drive; younger students may have to be more motivated by the parents, she said.

Carbine, however, warns that parents should make sure that kids really are sick, rather than repeatedly producing fake reasons not to go to school.

"That becomes a pattern and some kids manipulate parents into saying they aren't feeling good, and those parents are doing their kids a disservice," Carbine said.

Because many illnesses have a roller-coaster effect, with periods of feeling better and then worse, students should schedule schoolwork for times when they feel better.

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Yvonne Kakazu, a nurse for the Fountain Valley School District in Orange County, suggests picking the right time of day. "Usually in the mornings, people feel a little better," she said.

Take advantage of those times, said Al Brandenburg, an assistant principal at El Toro High School in Lake Forest. "Instead of watching TV, it's good to do some reading."

It's better to doze off with a history or literature book on their chest than a TV remote control.

"They're always welcome to call the school and get some ideas," Brandenburg said. "If they have problems, we can work them out."

Sharon Layton, a school nurse in the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, said parents and students need to work with educators to find a program that suits their situation because the effects of illness vary so widely.

She emphasized that ill children should work only when they feel up to it. Recovery, she said, is the top concern.

"If their fever goes down, you can get them to do a few things," she said. The key, she said, is "the parent working with the teacher and them doing all the things they can."

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Not surprisingly, incentives that parents use to motivate their children to do schoolwork when they are well work when they are ill too.

"If I do my homework, I can go on the Internet," said Natalie Orr, 12, who is being treated for kidney cancer. "I have to do all my work before I can do [other] things."

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