Earlier this year, District 11 set its sights on becoming the first “Seizure Smart” school district in Minnesota.
Last year, district health services staff responded to 514 seizures, according to Cynthia Hiltz, health services coordinator for the district. More than 300 students in District 11 have epilepsy, a condition marked by multiple seizures, she said.
With equally high prevalence in elementary, middle and high schools, seizures are something that all students, staff and parents should learn to recognize, Hiltz said. Everyone should be equipped to respond to seizures and provide support to others who experience them, she added.
Anoka-Hennepin joined forces with the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, and together they are working toward these goals, training students, staff and parents to become “Seizure Smart.”
Several schools within the district already carry the label, thanks in part to parent Paul Meunier, whose daughter Hannah had her first seizure in kindergarten.
Years ago, Hannah was in and out of the hospital. She had numerous seizures, many in school, but until Hannah was in third or fourth grade, the family was in denial. “We didn’t want to say it was epilepsy because there was such a negative stigma,” Meunier said. Many parents are still silent, he said.
When Hannah was a little older, the family reached out to the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. They worked to bring greater awareness to McKinley Elementary School in Ham Lake and Roosevelt Middle School in Blaine, where Hannah attended.
Training the school community to respond to seizures and providing resources for students with epilepsy, McKinley and Roosevelt earned their “Seizure Smart” distinctions, as did several other schools in District 11.
“Our family couldn’t have asked for better help from the two schools my daughter was at,” Meunier said. “The awareness definitely improved Hannah’s educational opportunities.”
Meunier would like to see Blaine High School, where Hannah is now a freshmen, become “Seizure Smart,” but he doesn’t want to stop there. Every school in the district should be “Seizure Smart,” Meunier thought before approaching the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota and Superintendent Dennis Carlson this past summer.
By next September, all Anoka-Hennepin schools will have earned the right to call themselves “Seizure Smart,” said Vicki Kopplin, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, who is now working closely with Hiltz.
Currently, 40 schools are designated “Seizure Smart” statewide, and with Anoka-Hennepin’s many schools soon to join the ranks, that number will nearly double.
Anoka-Hennepin wants to build a model for other districts to follow when it comes to addressing seizures and supporting students with epilepsy, Hiltz said.
For more information about epilepsy or the “Seizure Smart” program, contact the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota at 800-779-0777 or visit www.efmn.org.
Olivia Koester is at [email protected]