By BETSY BETHEL
Associate Life Editor
A desire to educate local educators about food allergies has led to the purchase of 27 formal training kits by the local nonprofit support group Ohio Valley Kids With Food Allergies.
Eight-year-old Audrey Robinson of Moundsville holds one of the food allergy training kits that her mother, Jami Robinson, founder of Ohio Valley Kids With Food Allergies, will present to schools in Marshall County. Audrey is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. Robinson hopes to provided kits and training to all schools in both Marshall and Ohio counties.
The 27 kits were purchased with grants from the Family Resource Networks in Ohio County and Marshall County.
The goal, said OVKFA founder Jami Robinson of Moundsville, is eventually to present each school in Ohio and Marshall counties with a training kit as well as a brief training session, provided by her at no charge.
"When you don't live with food allergies, you just don't understand. A lot of gains need to be made and the way to make those gains is through education. We just wanted to help the Ohio Valley Kids with Food Allergies get the information into the schools," said Claudia Raymer, executive director of the Ohio County Family Resource Network.
The kits include a binder of information and a DVD detailing facts, statistics and protocols regarding food allergies. Robinson purchased the kits for the discounted rate of about $25 each from Food Allergy Research and Education, a major national nonprofit dedicated to food allergy research and support.
"The information is fact based and gives practical techniques to teach them to confidently care for a child with food allergies - anything from knowing the signs of anaphylaxis to using the epinephrine injectors correctly to teaching the students the seriousness of it and preventing bullying," Robinson said.
One example of the bullying that is occurring is a child telling a classmate who is allergic to peanuts that he plans to shove a peanut butter sandwich in his face. If the child followed through, a severely allergic child could go into anaphylactic shock, during which breathing and blood flow can become constricted and death can occur.
"This is not a normal bullying situation. These kids are literally scared to death to go to school," Robinson said.
Robinson said she already has presented a training to the cooks and nurses in the Marshall County school district. She has additional sessions scheduled for aides on July 29 and Aug. 19.
"Marshall County (board of education) has been on board since the get-go," Robinson said, noting she made a presentation earlier this year and then-Superintendent Fred Renzella was immediately supportive. Following Renzella's retirement, Superintendent Michael Hince also expressed support. Robinson said the training she presented to the Marshall County cooks and nurses was well received.
"I think they didn't understand the seriousness of the issue until they did the training. A lot of people think it's just the food in the cafeteria and that's as far as it goes, but there's a lot more to it."
Said Hince: "I notice so many more kids coming up with food allergies. We need to be more forewarned. We really want to make the principals aware."According to a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was an 18 percent increase in food allergies between 1997 and 2007. Other studies show the number of peanut allergies among U.S. children tripled between 1997 and 2008, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.
"No one, I don't think, wants to have a child that has a reaction in their school. That's a frightening thing," Hince said. "We need a safe environment for them. And the answer isn't ostracizing them and separating them. I think we need to find ways they're included."
Robinson, whose 8-year-old daughter is severely allergic to peanuts, along with tree nuts and sesame, said she knows children who have food allergies who have been separated from their classmates during school activities. In one instance, a student had to wait in the hallway while an experiment involving an allergen was completed by her classmates inside the classroom. In other anecdotes shared by support group parents, children have been made to sit alone at lunch or were blamed out loud by a teacher in front of the class as the reason homemade treats are not allowed at class parties, Robinson said. She also has heard of parents and teachers disregarding the homemade treat rule set by the principal, and of a teacher eating tree nuts in a classroom with a tree-nut allergic child.
"We really want the schools to understand how important it is for a child to feel safe in the classroom," Robinson said.
Melody Osborne, Adolescent Health Initiative coordinator in Marshall County, said keeping kids safe is one of the Marshall County Family Resource Network's goals, and that is why it helped purchase the food allergy training kits.
"We hope providing these resource and training materials will result in a better understanding of the risks that these children face every day and therefore help to protect their lives," Osborne said.