Ask A Doc: Back to School

August 31, 2016

Once again, it’s time to start thinking about gearing up for a successful school year. I offer this annual list, my top ten steps for success for the 2016-17 year with full disclosure that I sometimes failed to follow them all.

  1. Sleep:

    I am convinced more than ever that sleep will be a real challenge with the ever present “smart” phone. We know starting mornings of class in September is similar to traveling two or three time zones east. Students are used to staying up late and sleeping-in. It seems logical that this new schedule could be improved with turning off the screens in the evening and a gradual change in the sleep pattern. Studies have shown that a good night’s sleep sweeps clear the brain of neuron debris and dust from the processing work of the prior day and really is the key to memory and learning. 

  2. Food:

    Breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day. The brain requires a steady continuous flow of glucose to perform. Pop Tarts and donuts deliver a short burst and then just “fumes” until the next meal. It takes time to eat breakfast, some protein, some fruit and some real food!


  3. Teamwork:

    Success in education happens when parents, teachers and students all work toward the goal as a team most of the time. Education failure is not the fault of teachers, but the failure of this team to work together. Successful students all have parents or grandparents or even older siblings involved in their education. 


  4. Problem Solving:

    All students, at one time or another, will have problems. Success in solving those problems is achieved when the cause is really understood, NOT assumed. Don’t just take your child’s version as fact. Often, the school has a version of the adverse event that has important differences and might be more accurate. Plan the fix as a team not as an adversary.


  5. Homework:

    There is always homework, even if it is not assigned. When and how it is accomplished is different for each student. Find what works for each, but stick to it and verify that it’s getting done. It is the homework, not the IQ, that seems to separate the top students from the pack. Consider this global economic fact: there are more top students in India than there are all students in America.


  6. Mental Health:

    Turmoil, abuse, violence, drama, alcoholism, drugs or any instability at home will always affect learning at school. If you see a sudden decline or change of interest in school or friends consider a mental health issue or drug use or both. Changes in attitude are a first clue to substance use. Always try to keep an open communication line with a troubled student. That dialogue can be the difference.


  7. Physical Health:

    Health exams are required when entering the school district for the first time as well as for students in grades Pre-K or K, 2, 4, 7 and 10. Sometimes school problems can be caused by a medical problem such as: a hearing loss from chronic ear infections, ADHD, lead toxicity, anemia or another condition. Sometimes a serious problem like Leukemia or Diabetes may have its first subtle sign as a school issue. There are good reasons for a physical exam periodically during the school years or certainly if problems come up during the academic year.


  8. Sports and the Advanced Placement Process:

    Every student from grade nine on should be involved in at least one sport, club or extracurricular activity. Physical education and school sports are important to the development of the “whole child.”  Students do not mature at the same rate and some have the skill and speed to perform at higher levels but in past these students were limited by their sexual maturity rating (aka; the Tanner Score). Schools now use the Advanced Placement Process when evaluating students who wish to participate at a higher level than may be indicated by their grade. This new process can now take into consideration the “whole athlete” including their physical and emotional maturity, size, fitness level and athletic skill.  It’s a protocol that allows safe participation based on readiness and ability not just a “Tanner number.”


  9. New Vaccine Requirements:

    As of this coming September, all students must receive their first dose of vaccine against Meningococcal disease before entering seventh and second dose before twelfth grade. This is a safe and valuable vaccine; it gives good but not 100 percent protection against a rare but devastating infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease can occur without warning, most often in healthy teens and carries 15 percent mortality rate. Of those who do survive Meningococcal infections, one in five will suffer permanent disabilities. Most colleges also require all incoming students to have this vaccine.

    Finally the most important step to success….


  10. Family Time:

It’s not always easy to have a conversation with a teen who may not want to talk to a parent, but at least once a day, perhaps for just 20 minutes at the dinner table, there should be no phones, no screens and no TVs. Take the time to be a family and eat together or just talk about the day. Even if things are not going well, or your student didn’t follow through on a task, that communication link should never be broken for more than a day. That link is the “life line” for your child in what can be a dangerous, threat-filled world, and we are reminded every day how dangerous it can be.


Michael Jordan, MD, MS-HQSM, CPE, FAAP, Chief of Pediatrics at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital is board-certified in Pediatric Medicine. He attended the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University and completed his residency training at the University of Rochester. In addition to his leadership role as chief of Pediatrics at Newark-Wayne, he is the medical director of Rochester Regional Medical Group and is also chair of Rochester General Medical Group’s Quality Committee. He works in the Sodus Rochester General Medical Group Pediatric office. To send questions on children’s health, please email Wendy Fisher, Pediatric Practice Manager at and write “Ask a Doc” in the subject line. To schedule an appointment, call 315-483-3214.