Plan now to be ready for first day of school


Rebecca Thrift, a kindergarten teacher at Littlewood Elementary School, left, her son Jimmy Thrift, 4, and friend Addie Grikstas work to get Thrift's new kindergarten classroom ready on Tuesday, before the start of the upcoming school year.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.

Four weeks of summer remain before Alachua County students go back to school.

Facts

IMPORTANT DATES

- Today-Aug. 16: Parents can register children at local schools Monday through Thursday before school starts. If you're unsure of your zoned school, call the district zoning office at 352-955-7700.
- Aug. 16: School clinics will be open to register students' prescription medications. Bring the medication to your child's school in its prescription packaging with an approval form, found at www.sbac.edu. Click on "departments," then "health services" and "medical documents."
- Aug. 15-16: Meet Your Teacher Days. Check the Back to School 2013 guide on the Alachua County Schools' home page, www.sbac.edu.
- Aug. 19: First day of school.

That's four more weeks to play in the backyard and lounge at the pool, with or without a pile of summer reading -- and for parents to get children ready for the first day of classes.

First, each student must be registered for school, which the district encourages parents and guardians to do over the summer, rather than waiting until the last minute.

School starts Aug. 19.

"We're better prepared for the start of the year when kids are registered," said Ron Knowles, principal of Hidden Oak Elementary School.

Having enrollment numbers ahead of time lets schools know how many teachers they need, and it helps schools organize classrooms, Knowles said. It's harder to predict those plans when students register on the first day.

Schools are open for registration Monday through Thursday during the summer.

The school district also advises parents not to wait to register students until classes actually start. Students could end up missing the first few days of school, when the lower grades do a lot of activities to help children get to know each other and feel comfortable in their classrooms. Older students could get shut out of elective classes and end up with the leftovers.

Prior to the start of the school year, parents and students can check for classroom supply lists, important dates and school uniform information on schools' websites. Each public school in Alachua County has a website off the main page of the district's homepage, www.sbac.edu, under "Schools & Centers."

There is also information about Meet Your Teacher Days, which are held for all students on Aug. 15-16.

But before the school rush starts in August, now is the time for students to get their annual checkups, school officials say.

By law, all students entering a Florida public school for the first time, including preschoolers and students who have moved from outside the state, must have a physical exam within one year of starting school.

In addition, each student in kindergarten through 12th grade must provide a certificate of immunization or proof of vaccination.

Starting before kindergarten, students will need to be vaccinated for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP), hepatitis B, polio, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and chickenpox, and to stay current with required booster shots through 12th grade.

Pediatricians can tell parents what vaccines children are due for during annual checkups, said Pat Hughes, supervisor of health services for Alachua County Public Schools.

"Children need all of their routine vaccines that the doctors are going to give them" to keep now-uncommon diseases from coming back, she said.

Parents can request a waiver from the health department to be able to send children to school without the proper vaccinations, but if there's an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, they'll have to stay home.

Hughes said there was a measles outbreak a couple of years ago after a student was exposed to it while visiting India. A few Alachua County children were affected.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, also has been making a comeback in recent years.

"If the people in our schools and community colleges are not vaccinated, they could get it," she said. "And [those diseases are] pretty severe."

For a list of immunization schedules and requirements, visit www.immunizeflorida.org.

Hughes said parents also should be on the lookout for a FluMist consent form that comes home with students in the first week of school.

FluMist is a nasal immunization for the flu. With a signed consent form, it's free in public schools, she said. Students can get the FluMist immunization in October.

If a student takes a daily prescription medication, parents should bring the medication, in its prescription package, to the school clinic on the Friday before classes begin.

School nurses keep track of the medications in their computer system.

"We don't want kids carrying that stuff in their backpacks," Hughes said.

An approval form for prescription medications can be found at www.sbac.edu, under the Health Services department.

The school district, too, has been working over the summer to get things ready for the new school year.

Although there were no major construction projects this summer, several schools are getting renovations.

Howard Bishop, Mebane, Oakview and Westwood middle schools and Santa Fe, Buchholz, Newberry and Eastside high schools are getting upgrades in their kitchens and cafeterias, Alachua County Public Schools spokeswoman Jackie Johnson wrote in an email.

Stephen Foster and Talbot elementary schools are getting outdoor covered areas; Waldo Community School will have a new insulated roof on one of its buildings; and two of Howard Bishop Middle School's bathrooms are getting revamped.

The school district also made about 100 new hires over the summer.

Teachers return to their classrooms Aug. 12 for a week of planning before school starts the following Monday.

"We are looking forward to it," Hidden Oak Principal Knowles said. "We can't wait to see everybody."

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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