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Safety Checklist for Kids on Their Way to School

We’ve been following the news about Sierra LaMar, a 15-year-old who disappeared near her home in Morgan Hill, CA sometime between a text message sent to a friend and nine minutes later when she didn’t show up to her school bus on March 16. Reports Thursday say that police no longer think she may have run away and believe that she was most likely kidnapped, potentially by someone she knows.

We don’t know what happened to Sierra but it’s hard not to fear the worst and to wish that she had known whatever it was she needed to know to stay safe: not to let someone she wasn’t expecting into her house, to be cautious even if it is someone you know, to keep out of reach of someone on the sidewalk, not to take a ride even from an acquaintance without checking first – and as soon as she knew she had trouble; to yell, run, make a scene, and to fight to protect herself.

Even after hundreds of people have searched for her – finding only her purse, backpack and cellphone – it’s still difficult to know yet what has happened. Our hearts go out to her family and friends who are all waiting to hear from her.

Today we are posting a one-page Kidpower Safety For Kids On Their Way To School Checklist download the pdf) that we’ve compiled for parents about how to prepare their kids to be ready to make safe choices and get help while on their way to and from school, or anywhere else that they are allowed to go on their own.

TALK together to make a Safety Plan so your kids will know:

  • They are safest staying in groups and, if they are younger, with an adult you select.
  • To always get permission from you or another adult in charge before they change their plan about going anywhere with anyone, whether it is a stranger or someone they know.
  • To always get your permission about where they go, who will be with them, and what they will be doing.
  • That a stranger is someone they do not know well, can look like anybody, and might know their name.
  • That most people are good and most strangers are good, but they do not know what someone is like just by how that person looks or acts.
  • To NOT get close to a stranger, talk to a stranger, take anything from a stranger, or go with a stranger – unless they have their adult’s permission.
  • If they are old enough to talk to a stranger, to stay out of reach and not give personal information.
  • To move away toward safety and get help if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or tries to approach them.
  • How to get help in an emergency from people you’ve designated along their route.
  • To tell a trusted adult every time someone makes them feel uncomfortable or scared.

WALK together to determine:

  • The safest route to follow on the way to and from school on foot, by bus, or by bike that will avoid isolated places, difficult streets to cross, and other hazards.
  • Where to go and who to ask for help if kids have a safety problem on route — preferably adults you have introduced them to — in a church, store, neighbor’s house, bus, etc.
  • What to do if kids get lost, if they cannot stay on their route, or if someone bothers them.
  • Each child’s safety readiness for going on her or his own without adult supervision.

PRACTICE together until you are SURE your kids are prepared to:

  • Use their awareness to notice and avoid safety problems from people, traffic, or other possible trouble.
  • Act aware, calm, and confident in every situation.
  • Move quickly out of reach from a stranger or anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Follow their safety plan even if a friend tries to persuade them to do otherwise.
  • Find a place with people to help them if they get lost or have to change their route.
  • Yell “NO! I NEED HELP!” and run to a safe place to get help if they feel scared.
  • Yell, pull away, hit and kick to escape from an attack.
  • Be persistent in getting help, even if adults are busy or impatient.
  • Find and use a telephone so they can call a trusted adult for help or 911 in an emergency

“Best of” Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips 2009: Part II

If you are a parent or someone who takes care of kids in any way, shape or form (which I’m guessing you are if you’re reading this) there are three words that have dominated your world for the past couple of weeks: “back to school”. It is likely that you have not spent a day, opened a newspaper or a journal or gone backtoschool-3to the sites you typically visit on the internet and not seen these words staring back at you in an article telling you: “How can you best prepare your kids”, “The 101 things you should know before sending your kids back to school …” etc. Sometimes it seem like there are a million articles…by a million experts. Unfortunately, with so much information it can be a bit overwhelming at times, when all we really want is someone to give us the answer to the very basic question of “what should I do to handle this particular situation.”

So for those of you who didn’t read part I, I’ve gone through all my sources and created a “best of” health and safety tips across all the expert information I’ve found, in the hopes that it will save everyone a little time that they could be otherwise be using to get 5 more minutes (or 1 extra hug) in with their kids before they head off to school. (*Please note: as with yesterday, I am sourcing other author’s tips and will cite all references below – all copyrights, credit and thanks belong to them)

Heading to School:

Waiting for the Bus:

  • Arrive at the stop at least five minutes before the bus arrives and stay out of the street while waiting for the bus to arrive
  • Wait on the same side of the street as the school bus loading/unloading zone
  • Look before stepping into the street to make sure there are no cars passing the bus
  • Cross the street at least 10 feet (or 10 giant steps) in front of the bus to make sure drivers can see them. Drivers have a blind spot of 10 feet in front of the bus.
  • Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before exiting and exit from the front of the bus.
  • Ask the bus driver for help if anything is dropped while entering or exiting the bus.

While on the bus:

  • Remain seated, forward facing at all times and keep the aisles clear.
  • Do not shout or distract the driver unnecessarily – this includes throwing things
  • Keep heads and arms inside the bus at all times. Parents should also make sure that they remove loose drawstrings or ties on jackets and sweatshirts that can snag on bus handrails, and replace with Velcro, snaps or buttons.

Walking to school:

  • It’s recommended that children under ten never cross the street alone – additionally:JB230908walk-01.jpg
  • Choose the safest route and walk it with children.
  • Instruct children to recognize and obey all traffic signals and markings.
  • Make sure children look in all directions before crossing the street and teach them to never dart out into traffic.
  • Direct children to not to enter the street from between parked cars or from behind bushes or shrubs – teach them to cross at a corner or crosswalk.
  • Warn children to be extra alert in bad weather
  • A bright colored jacket might make your child more visible to traffic.
  • In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider starting a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school

Riding a bike to school:

  • Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.
  • Know the “rules of the road”: Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic, use appropriate hand signals and respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright color clothing to increase visibility.
  • Do not allow children to ride on the road without direct adult supervision until age ten.

Btw – Here’s a great brochure by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) that uses graphics and humor to teach little kids how to be safe on their way to school

During the School Day:

Eating during the day:

  • Many schools regularly send schedules of cafeteria menus home. This gives you the option of packing lunch on the days when you, or your child, don’t like the meal served.
  • Try to get your child’s school to stock healthy choices such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products, water and 100 percent fruit juice in the vending machines. Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Just one can of soda a day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60%.


  • Today, unfortunately bullying occurs in many different forms and can sometimes be difficult to Back to school-bullyingrecognize. The American Academy of Pediatrics has detailed guidelines on managing bullying from the perspective of the child being bullied, the child who is the bully and the bystander. Across all 3 categories, what is consistent is involving a parent or another adult to develop a proactive solution. Rather than try and abbreviate this section, if this is an issue for your child, well documented and excellent guidelines can be sourced here

Keeping them safe at school:

  • Ask your child about safety in his or her school. Where do they feel most safe? Least safe? Why?
  • Identify comfort levels and methods for reporting safety concerns. Do students have at least one adult and/or method they would feel comfortable in reporting safety concerns to at school?
  • Examine access to your school. Are there a reduced number of doors that can be accessed from the outside (while still allowing children to exit from the inside in an emergency)? Do faculty know who is in their school?
  • Determine if your school has a school safety team, safety plan and ongoing process, as well as a school crisis team and school emergency/crisis preparedness guidelines. Are these plans and guidelines reviewed regularly – at least once a year? If so, do the students, school employees and parents know about them? Are they tested and exercised?
  • Do school officials have meaningful, working relationships with police, fire and other public safety agencies serving their schools? Do they have direct input on school safety plans?
  • Finally 5 excellent questions that your schools crisis mgmt team should know the answer to – if not, get involved (same author):
    1. How do you dial 9-1-1 from the school phones? Do you need to get an outside line first?
    2. What is the actual street address of the school if asked by a 9-1-1 dispatcher?
    3. If your schools nearby walking evacuation site is a community church, does someone have the keys to get in if no one from the church is there when you arrive?
    4. How long does it really take to mobilize your school bus drivers in the middle of the day if you need to evacuate multiple buildings (e.g. half the school +)?
    5. Have you ever trained students NOT to open doors to people on the outside trying to get into the school?

After School:

Getting home safe and staying that way :

  • Make sure your child walks home with a group of friends or a responsible adult.
  • Make sure to have an adult at the bus stop after school to make sure the kids get home safely.backtoschool-bus stop meet
  • Make a code word that will be used when someone else they do not know will pick them up. Every time you have someone pick your child up from school they have to know your secret code word or you child will not get in the vehicle.
  • Let them know that if an adult makes them feel uncomfortable or is following them have them call 911 and go back to school, to the police, or to a friend’s home as quick as possible. They need to find a safe place.
  • If they are going to be alone in the afternoons, teach them to go straight home, keep doors locked and not answer the door for anyone.
  • Finally, remind them never give out personal information to strangers or on the Internet.

So folks, I know it was a long list, but I hope it’s one you’ll find useful. Until next time keep them healthy, keep them safe…and remember we’ll keep doing our best to help you do both, because one ouch is definitely too many


As we did yesterday, sending out thanks and recognition to some very smart folks for some really terrific advice:

  1. Waiting for the Bus, While on the bus, Walking to school and bullet # 4 of Riding a bike to school: (Parents Need to Talk to Children About Safety When Sending Them Back to School, Susan Laurence of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center July 24, 2009)
  2. Riding a bike to school, Eating during the day, Bullying, and bullet # 8 of Walking to school: (Back to School Tips: American Academy of Pediatrics 2009)
  3. Keeping them safe at school: (Parents & School Safety – Can you Prevent Another Tragedy? How Safe is Your Child’s School: by Ken Trump president of National School Safety & Security Svces and 25+ years of school safety experience)
  4. Getting home safe and staying that way : (Children’s safety tips to remember for back to school: Melina Ann Collison, St Louis Crime Examiner, July 27, 2009)
  5. bullet # 5 of Getting home safe and staying that way : (ADT Safety Tips: Back-to-School Safety, Aug 10, 2009: Patrick Fiel, public safety advisor for ADT Security and former head of security for Washington DC Public Schools)

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“Best of” Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips 2009: Part I

It’s that time of year again…back to school. Some of our kids have already left, some are just heading out…and although we can send them off with a hug, typically there’s a little more we want to do to protect them and make backtoschool-3sure there are little to no “ouches” to care for when they arrive home. And our job isn’t easy, because unfortunately the hazards they face – bullying, gangs, drug sales, reckless drivers and predators, just to name a few – can happen before, during or after school. The best we can hope for is to make sure they are healthy before they walk out the door, ensure their trip to and from school is “uneventful”, and equip them with the tools, knowledge and resources to help them keep themselves safe and healthy until they are once again in our care.

To assist our efforts, experts provide us with articles and blog posts of “back to school” health guidelines and safety tips and do’s and don’ts lists, addressing all of these issues in many different forms. In fact there is a wealth of knowledge on the web on how to best prepare your child and send them off to school. Having sourced and searched, and read and compiled, what I would like to do here is save you a little time – which at this time of the year we all know is in incredibly precious – and share with you the best of what I found. (*Please note – I am sourcing other author’s tips and will cite all references below – all copyrights, credit and thanks belong to them)

Before School Begins:

Prep for pre-school physicals: backtoschool-health check2

  • Bring your child’s immunization records. If you can’t locate those records, contact your school’s nurse for the most recent copy on file.
  • Make a list of any questions you may have regarding your child’s physical, emotional or mental development.
  • Encourage your child to be open and forthright with the doctor about any health-related issues
  • Don’t wait until the last minute.
  • Don’t confuse pre-participation sports physical exams with school physicals. Sports physicals are required in advance of every school year or sports season.

Consider a back-to-school health check list:

  • Have your child’s hearing checked.
  • Have their vision screened. Young children often don’t know they can’t see well enough for schoolwork
  • Be sure immunizations are up to date.
  • Investigate possible learning disabilities. If you suspect your child may not be processing information correctly, speak to a teacher or contact a learning center for advice.
  • Inventory your child’s mental health. What’s your child’s behavior like? If your child seems anxious or unsteady, talk to your pediatrician or a counselor to help identify the source and a solution
  • Plan ahead on prescriptions – especially if medications will need to be given at school
  • Scan the scalp.
  • Equip the athlete. If your child will participate in sports, be sure that he or she has all the protective equipment needed for the sport.
  • Schedule a trip to the dentist. Address any sleep issues.

Conduct a backpack check:

  • When fully loaded, your child’s backpack should weigh less than 15 percent of his body weight. To help yourbacktoschool-5 child know what this weight feels like, use your bathroom scale to measure the right backpack load.
  • Buy a backpack with two wide, padded straps that go over the shoulders — and make sure your child uses both straps at all times.
  • Your child’s backpack should not be wider than his body.
  • Choose a backpack with a padded waist or chest belt. This distributes weight more evenly across the body. Multiple compartments also help distribute the weight.
  • Consider a backpack with a metal frame (like hikers use) or on wheels (like a flight attendant’s bag). Check with your child’s school first to see if these types of bags are allowed.
  • Make sure your child isn’t carrying unnecessary items. Laptops, CD players and video games can add a lot of pounds to a backpack.
  • Heavier items should be placed closer to the back of the backpack, next to the body.
  • Finally teach them to pick up their backpack like any heavy object – bend at the knees to lift.

Deciding when they’re too sick for school:

  • As a rule of thumb, a child should stay home if he has a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit OR
  • Vomited more than once
  • Diarrhea
  • A very frequent cough
  • Persistent pain (ear, stomach, etc.)
  • A widespread rash

For those with “big kids” going off to school, make sure their health is covered:

  • Know the plans benefits. Make sure you have read and, in fact, understand the entire contents of the plan brochure.
  • What doctors are covered? Can students use their own doctors when at home?
  • Does the plan have any authorization or referral requirements?
  • How much does it cost? Prices and payment options vary greatly from plan to plan.
  • What are the plan exclusions? Often student health plans are considered “accident and sickness plans” meaning they exclude or provide very limited routine and preventative care
  • Are there any pre-existing condition limitations? Will your child’s ongoing condition be covered?
  • What are the plan maximums? Some student plans are extremely basic and therefore the aggregate benefit maximum may be very low.
  • If your child is no longer a student is there an option to extend coverage (i.e. after graduation?)
  • What are the deadlines?
  • Who is the health insurance carrier?

Check back again soon for Part II where we’ll pick up our “Best of” Back to School – Health and Safety Tips 2009 with suggestions for what to do once they head out the door. Until next time keep them healthy, keep them safe…and remember we’ll keep doing our best to help you do both, because one ouch is definitely too many


Sending out thanks and recognition to some very smart folks for some really great advice:

  1. Prep for pre-school physicals: (School-age physicals: What to know before you go by Drs. Michelle Meeks and Tonja Austin, Aug 4, 2009)
  2. Conduct a backpack check: (Backpack Safety Tips – Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta by Dr David Marshall Aug 5, 2009)
  3. Deciding when they’re too sick for school: (Is Your Child Too Sick for School by Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta Aug 5, 2009)

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