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Primary school ramps up health initiatives

Beth Calkins, Fort Rucker Primary School nurse, checks out Aaron Simpson, first grader, in the nurse’s office Nov. 13. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Beth Calkins, Fort Rucker Primary School nurse, checks out Aaron Simpson, first grader, in the nurse’s office Nov. 13. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: November 21, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 21, 2014) -- With widespread stories of sickness and disease in the news, it’s no surprise that Fort Rucker’s schools are taking the fight to combat the spread of disease head on.

The Fort Rucker Primary School is pushing a health initiative in order to educate not only its students, but their family members, as well, on the importance of awareness when it come to the spread of disease, said Beth Calkins, FRPS school nurse.

“I always start every year out with initiatives for the children to wash their hands, eat healthy, get enough sleep and those sort of things, but this year the enterovirus D68 (or EV-D68) was brought to our attention as children in the Midwest were contracting the virus and falling ill,” said Calkins. “We don’t want our children caught up in that, so we decided to make sure to educate them, as well as the parents, on the issue.”

Symptoms of the enterovirus include severe respiratory problems, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, body aches and difficulty breathing, and if not treated properly can lead to death in some cases. The virus can be spread through the air in droplets or by contaminated surfaces, so prevention through proper hygiene is key, said the school nurse.

“The No. 1 protection against the enterovirus is hand washing, so we took the children one class at a time and did a unit on hand washing,” she said. “We tell our kids all the time to wash their hands … but we don’t really teach them how to wash their hands properly.

“It seems like a simple task, but the biggest part of washing your hands is the mechanical piece and scrubbing the germs off,” Calkins continued. “If you’re not scrubbing your entire hand or you’re not scrubbing hard enough or long enough, you’re not really washing your hands.”

The children were taught to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice or sing the “Alphabet Song” twice as a means to time how long they should wash their hands. They were also told to make sure they get all the areas between their fingers and in the cracks because that’s where lots of germs can hide out, she said, and they employed an interesting way to make sure they were getting all the hidden spots.

“We used some glow-in-the-dark germ juice that we put on their hands to spread around their hands, and with the germ juice we were able to look at their hands with a black light and see all the places that germs can hide on their hands,” said Calkins. “After they wash their hands, we can use the black light again to see where they might have missed to show them how well or not so well they are washing their hands. That way they can be a little more cognizant about what they’re missing, and this is especially good for kids because they’re more visual when it comes to learning.”

As a school nurse, Calkins’ motto is “Kids have to learn to be healthy, but they have to be healthy to learn,” and she said there are two main parts to being a school nurse – educating them on health and keeping them healthy.

Part of that health education is passing the knowledge onto parents, so they know the best way to keep their children from spreading disease and also knowing when to keep children home when they’re sick.

“If I send a child home from school today, they have to stay home today and tomorrow at a minimum,” said the school nurse. “If their fever persists or they are only able to keep their fever down with medication, the child is not allowed to come back the next day either. The child must be at home, fever free for a 24-hour period without any type of fever-reducing medication before they are able to return to school.”

Calkins said that the policy is in place to not only give the child the proper time to heal, but to make sure that disease isn’t spread to other children in the school, which could spread it to the community.

“We want our children to stay healthy and we want to make sure to keep the community healthy. The healthier they are, the more they can learn in school,” she said.

Much of this education comes just in time for flu season, which is another disease that families need to make sure to be aware of, said Calkins.

Influenza is responsible for thousands of deaths each year, said Calkins. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the 1976-1977 flu season to the 2006-2007 season, the amount of influenza-related deaths range from 3,000-49,000 per year.

Although the numbers can be staggering, Calkins said the best defense is still good hygiene.

“The (enterovirus and the flu) are the things we really need to focus on preventing because those are the two diseases our children are most likely to encounter, and all of that prevention starts with good hygiene and healthy habits,” she said, adding that as long as people practice these habits, their chances of contracting either should be minimal.

This article was originally published at

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