Can I help my child be safer going to and from school?

 Yes.  The start of a new school year is a perfect time to pause and review simple ways you can help your child travel safely to and from school. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently shared a number of tips on this topic that I would like to share with you: 

When it comes to your child’s backpack: “Pack light. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight.  Go through the pack with your child weekly, and remove unneeded items to keep it light.  Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.” 

If your child is walking to school: “Make sure your child’s walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.  Identify other children in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school.  In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organizing a ‘walking school bus,’ in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.  Bright-colored clothing will make your child more visible to drivers.”  The Vermont Department of Health and RiseVT have worked with many of our local communities on official ‘safe routes to school’ and the ‘walking school bus,’ so talk to your child’s school for more information.

If your child is riding her/his bike to school: “Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.  Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present. Use appropriate hand signals.  Respect traffic lights and stop signs.  Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark. Know the ‘rules of the road’.”

If your child rides the school bus: “Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb. Remind your student to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street, just in case traffic does not stop as required. If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan.

If you have a teenager driving to school: “Remember that many crashes occur while novice teen drivers are going to and from school. You should require seat belt use, limit the number of teen passengers, and do not allow eating, drinking, cell phone conversations even when using hands-free devices or speakerphone, texting or other mobile device use to prevent driver distraction. Limit nighttime driving and driving in inclement weather. For a sample parent-teen driver agreement, see www.healthychildren.org/teendriver.”

The safety and health of the children in our community is something we all hold near and dear to our hearts.  As adults, we should be mindful that school is back in session and take extra care while driving.  Young pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers are not necessarily always fully attentive or properly cautious, so expecting the unexpected is so important. 

As school comes back into session, it is exciting to see plans coming together for the RiseVT team to be even more involved with local schools to help kids have fun embracing healthy lifestyles (visit www.risevt.com to learn more).  At the same time, we can all be thankful for the wonderful Pediatricians, Family Practice specialists, and advanced practice providers caring for the children of our community.  If you need help establishing a relationship with a medical provider for your child, please call Janet in NMC’s Community Relations office at 802 524-1280. Enjoying good health is a tremendous asset in a child’s school experience, so getting each of them to and from school and keeping them up to date with their well child visits, etc., is so important. Best wishes for a successful school year!

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer