Get to know the Bridges Program!

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Did you know that Washington is a Work First state? This means that every person, no matter their ability, deserves the opportunity to pursue meaningful work and live the life they want to live.

Skagit County’s Developmental Disabilities Program exists to foster inclusive communities that support people with developmental disabilities to fully participate in and contribute to all aspects of community life. One of the ways that we do this is by providing the Bridges Program for Skagit County transition-age students (18-21 years old) who are enrolled in a school-based transition program.

Bridges is a no-cost program designed to ensure that transition students are connected and familiar with the services and resources they can utilize to receive long-term support to achieve their employment goals. They are also connected with a supported employment provider who helps guide them through a person-centered planning process to identify long-term and short-term goals, and to help them navigate applications to a variety of agencies who can fund employment supports once a student graduates.

The ultimate goal is for a student to be employed in a job that fits their interests and skills by the end of their final year of transition.

Want to know more about how you can be involved in the Bridges Program? Contact Jen Smith, Skagit County’s Transition Specialist, at (360) 416-1520 or jrsmith@co.skagit.wa.us.

Skagit County Bridges Program

Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccine Now Available at the Fairgrounds

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November 3, 2021

Skagit County Public Health is ecstatic to announce that pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is now available at its drive-through Testing and Vaccine Site at the Fairgrounds. This announcement follows the FDA’s endorsement on October 29, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimous vote on November 2, and the subsequent support of the Western States Scientific Review Workgroup and the Washington State Department of Health.  

Children are not immune to this virus and the great challenges it poses to everyday life. The CDC’s latest data show that 172 children ages 5 to 11 have died from COVID-19 and more than 8,300 have been hospitalized. Science also does not yet know the long term impacts children could face from having contracted and recovered from COVID-19.

“In Skagit County, approximately 25 percent of all our COVID-19 cases between September 5 and October 23 were in school age children. Pediatric vaccines will be a game changer in our fight against this virus.”

Howard Leibrand, Skagit County Health Officer

Pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is available to children 5-11 years old at the Fairgrounds by appointment only. Parents and caregivers can now make an appointment by going to https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/ and searching for “Skagit County Public Health” under Name of Location. Appointments are limited at this time. If, when you search, there are no appointments available, please check back the following Monday around 12:00pm.

Parents/caregivers may also check with other providers about availability. For a full list of local vaccination providers, go to Vaccine Locator or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #.

The Fairgrounds is located at 501 Taylor Street in Mount Vernon and operates on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 3pm to 7pm. Parent/guardian consent to vaccinate is required for all dependent minors and must be provided in-person at the time of the appointment.

COVID-19 vaccines are provided at no-cost, and no insurance required. For more information about the site, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call (360) 416-1500.


Prepare Them for Fall; Prepare Them for Life

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Are your kids heading back to school? Whether your child is going to school in person or not, one of the most important things that you can do to prepare them for back-to-school is a visit with their doctor. For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed or pushed back routine doctor visits, including well-child visits and routine vaccinations. Now is the time to get back on track!

Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), we figured this would be the perfect time to remind Skagit County families to get caught up on all routine medical appointments! NIAM is an annual observance which highlights the importance of getting recommended vaccines throughout your life.

During NIAM, we encourage you to talk to your doctor or healthcare professional to ensure that you and your family are protected against serious diseases by getting caught up on routine check-ups and vaccinations.

So let’s get ready for back-to-school! Here’s a checklist to help them prepare for a healthy year…

Physical & mental health

During a well-child check, doctors will note a child’s growth and development, based on what’s typical or expected for their age, while also taking into account the child’s personal or family history.

And perhaps of equal importance—and especially so this year—a check-up with your child’s doctor provides a fantastic opportunity to check in on your kiddo’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Talk with your child’s doctor about mental health assessments and discuss any concerns that you may have. We all know that this past year and a half has been tough, so be sure to keep both the head and the heart in mind!

Visit here for more tips on well-child visits.

Vaccinations

One important aspect of the annual visit is to ensure a child’s immunizations are up to date. Vaccinations not only reduce the risk of serious illnesses but also save lives. And vaccinations aren’t only for babies or the very young. As children get older, they will continue to need additional immunizations and booster shots even through adulthood.

As your children head back to school this fall, it’s particularly important for you to work with your child’s doctor or nurse to make sure they get caught up on missed well-child visits and recommended vaccines. For childhood vaccine schedules, check out the links below:

Vaccine Schedule: Birth – 6 Years

Vaccine Schedule: 7 Years – 18 Years

One of the new vaccines this year is, of course, for COVID-19. Children ages 12 and older are now eligible for this vaccination, which will help protect them against the virus and reduce its spread in our communities. To learn more about COVID-19 vaccination, check out the following websites:

Adults: Remember to take care of yourself too! Make sure to receive any vaccines you need to stay healthy. Use CDC’s adult vaccine assessment tool to see which vaccines might be right for you.

Additional exams

In addition to having their overall physical and mental health checked, kids should also have the following special exams on a regular basis:

  • Hearing tests.
  • Vision exams.
  • Dental checkups.
  • For young girls who are going or have gone through puberty, chat with your provider about whether or when they should begin seeing a specialist.

More tips for a healthy year

Here are some more helpful tips to ensure your child is off to a good start this fall:

  • Ease into a fall bedtime schedule.  Good sleep is essential!
  • Know the safety tips for backpack use. Note the fit and keep the weight manageable.
  • Plan lunches and snacks.  Aim for well-balanced nourishing meals.
  • Reduce anxiety and manage stress.  Keep the lines of communication open to talk about what’s on your child’s mind.

Schedule your child’s visit

Now is a good time to call your healthcare provider to schedule a visit for yourself and your children. For those who do not have a healthcare provider or who may be struggling to access healthcare, there is help available.

Help Me Grow Skagit provides a wide range of resources designed to support you and your family. Go to their website or call/ text (360) 630-8352 to talk to a specialist or complete their contact form online.


New COVID-19 Guidance That Impacts Skagit Residents

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November 11, 2020

On Sunday, Governor Inslee announced changes to current COVID-19 guidance. The new guidance will take effect at midnight on Monday, November 16 (with a few exceptions) and be in place until at least December 14, 2020. There are many changes including:

  • No indoor social gatherings are allowed. Outdoor social gatherings can have five or fewer people from outside an immediate household.
  • Restaurants and bars are open for outdoor dining and takeout only- no indoor dining is allowed (these restrictions will go into effect on Wednesday, November 18).
  • Bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums, zoos and indoor fitness facilities are closed.
  • Personal services (such as hair dressers, nail salons, etc…) and retail occupancy, including grocery stores are limited to 25 percent of capacity.
  • Long term care facilities can only allow outdoor visitation, except in the cases of end of life care and essential support personnel.
  • Religious services are limited to 25 percent indoor occupancy or 200 people, whichever is fewer. No choir, band or ensemble shall perform during these services. Facial coverings must be worn at all times by congregation members, and there cannot be any congregational singing.
  • Wedding receptions are prohibited. Wedding ceremonies will be allowed with no more than 30 people in attendance.
  • Youth (school and non-school) and adult sporting activities are limited to outdoor only for intra-team practices, and all athletes must wear masks.
  • No real estate open houses.

“Cases have been spiking throughout Washington, including in Skagit County. These restrictions are necessary to prevent further spread, deaths and potential hospital overwhelm. I’m glad Governor Inslee is taking these steps, and encourage everyone to follow them; if not for their own health, for their neighbors.”

Skagit Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand

Governor Inslee is also requiring that those who are able to work from home do so. If a business is not able to operate remotely, only 25 percent of the buildings capacity can work from there at one time. Further, no public services should be provided wherever possible. No changes have been made to the guidance’s governing schools or childcare facilities.

This is not a complete list. Full text of the new guidance is available here.

Skagit County has reported more than 150 cases this week. According to the Governor’s risk assessment dashboard, Skagit County has 90.6 cases per 100,000 over the last fourteen days. Skagit’s percent positive test rate, which indicates the percentage of total COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive, has increased to 3.4%.

“I know it’s hard to think about spending this holiday season away from our families, but these restrictions will save lives, and they will the lives of people you personally know,” said Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson. “Following these guidelines will help keep you, your family and our community at large from facing a total health system crisis. Please, do your part.”

More information on Skagit County’s COVID-19 response is available at www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.

A link to Skagit County’s press release can be found here.


Staying Healthy, Staying Active: Physical Education During Distance Learning

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It is National Health Education Week—a week in which we seek to increase national awareness on major public health issues and promote a better understanding of the role of health education. And who better to highlight than our fabulous health educators in schools?!

In celebration of National Health Education Week, I wanted to share what local Physical Education (PE) teachers have been doing to keep students healthy and active during this not-so-normal school year. This particular interview is with Michele Kloke, a PE teacher with the Sedro-Woolley School District.

What grades and subjects do you teach?

I teach Kindergarten through 6th grade currently. I’ve been a Specialist most of my years in Sedro-Woolley—a Librarian/Tech teacher, PE Specialist, and I’ve even taught Kindergarten and 1st grade. What I LOVE about being a Specialist at Lyman Elementary is that I normally get to see each child every day!  It is also what’s made teaching remotely so difficult. I’ve missed the personal contact with our students. We all have.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have other teaching responsibilities besides PE so part of my day is devoted to those. While some of our PE teachers are teaching online, others—like myself—are teaching remotely because it works best for our situations. Time is spent researching sites and activities that reinforce the curriculum we are teaching within our district as elementary PE teachers. Other activities include: emails, Zoom Meetings, videotaping to make lessons more personal, Loom, work on Google Classroom, Google Slide lessons, creating Docs, PD Trainings, working on site and more.

What types of things do you do to keep students engaged?

I keep things perky and provide lots of options and choices for them to engage in as they work on lesson TARGETS and Success Criteria. Making sure the sites and activities are not only engaging but that they provide differentiation and awesome Challenges is important. The Challenges are usually ones we’ve done in class or are from experts in a sport or activity. It’s inspiring!  I also give students the choice to do their own activities and let me know what they did on their Exit Slips.

I use Google Slides and link them to PE Google Classrooms. What’s great about using Google Slides is that I can personalize them and it gives students and their families more flexibility. They can do a slide or two a day (lessons are meant to be done over several days) and they can do them when it works best for them. Having Exit Slips at the end of each lesson is a way to engage students and provide feedback. I also like to email, encourage, and congratulate students on their effort.

Those teaching lessons via Zoom mentioned they try to keep things light, lively, and keep students moving.

What are some things that students can be doing at home on their own time to stay active and stay healthy?

Take brain breaks often! Even 2 minutes of movement is helpful in boosting their ability to stay focused. Longer is better, of course! Getting outside, riding bikes, or just playing and moving will do wonders! Students are building and growing their bodies right now so movement is really important, and eating foods that are healthy. This time of year provides a lot of fresh and delicious food choices.

What has been the biggest struggle so far this school year?

One of my cohorts said it well: “…It seems ironic that PE teachers are using screen time to encourage physical activity, but that’s our means of communication with students at this time.”

Another challenge with PE in our elementary schools is consistent participation in the lessons. While each school is unique in its approach, the lessons are following a district-generated set of instruction which, unfortunately, not all students are receiving.

Troubleshooting technology issues and learning new technology has also been challenging.

What have been some really great moments for you this year?

For all of us, hearing from our students and families personally via emails, posts, or other means is THE BEST! We miss them SO much and love any and all contact we receive.

For example, one of my students mentioned that she hadn’t completed the PE Lesson yet because she and her family went on a long hike. Then she proceeded to explain all the crazy, exciting things that happened on their hike including getting snowed on. I loved hearing that story and it helped make me feel more connected. 

Also, recently beginning to teach PE in-person with our K-2 students has been WONDERFUL!

If you could tell parents one thing, what would you tell them?

Stay healthy and stay active! This isn’t forever, but being active is. Please, take screen time breaks as often as possible by doing something fun that involves movement. You’ll be glad you did…and so will your child. We miss you and your children!


Back to School: Create a Schedule that Works

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Along with Skagit school districts’ back-to-school reopening plans, each school has provided students with a schedule. While it is very important to become familiar with this academic schedule, it is also important to develop a schedule at home that will work for your student, as well as the rest of the household. Here are some ideas that may help bring a sense of clarity to your weekly routine. 

1. Compartmentalize your day

For anyone who’s been working from home the past several months, you have probably weighed the costs and benefits of compartmentalizing your day. When the work day bleeds into the work evening, then into the work weekend, it becomes really important to define your time—for your mental health, if nothing else.

The same holds true for your child! Create a routine in which your student gets up, gets dressed and has breakfast, then progresses into their school day. While it can be tempting, it is important to change out of pajamas (at least from time to time!) and put on some day-time clothing. Compartmentalize the day into natural chunks of time: morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, and end-of-day. The late afternoon should include a period of free time to allow your child to decompress from the day and to wrap up their school work.

2. Take breaks and eat well

Along these same lines, be sure that your student takes breaks and sets aside a time to have lunch. It can be easy for kids to snack while they work, and to eat lunch at their study space. However, it is good for the mind and body to take a breather and spend some time in a different part of the house or outside.

For breaks, it may be helpful to take 15-20 minutes every few hours (or more often, for younger children). Be sure that your child knows that taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and come back to their work is extremely important (even adults need to do this!). If your child is really struggling with a project or assignment, encourage taking a quick break.

3. Get organized

It may be helpful to work with your child on reviewing their weekly academic calendar and any due dates that they may have for assignments. A planner (either paper or digital) could be a great tool for some students, while others may need something that is easily accessible and clearly visible. Just like in a school classroom, your child may find it helpful to have a whiteboard by their desk with a list of assignments, or even a large calendar with due dates clearly marked. This may also be a good thing for you, as the parent, since you can keep track of your child’s schedule from afar.

4. Get active…daily!

This is critical for your child’s physical and mental health. When the weather still permits, encourage your child to go outside to take a walk or bike ride. For younger kids, their local playground may be re-opening! Be sure to talk about keeping distance from others, even when outside, and wear a mask if in a more crowded area.

When the weather starts to turn chilly and/or rainy (or smoky), find some things to do indoors that get their blood flowing! Exercise and dance videos can be fun, and even stretching can be done in small spaces. Doing the same activities every day can get tiresome, so encourage your student to try different ways to get moving. And if you can, do it with them!

5. Encourage socialization

Your child might be excited to get back to school, even if it is remote and online. It may be the first time in a while that they have seen some of their friends and peers after a long COVID summer, and this re-engagement might be a seriously needed mood-booster. But don’t be surprised if by October your student is feeling burned out on online schooling. This kind of socialization might not be enough for many children, and it is okay to admit that!

When your child is feeling antsy or moody, encourage some socialization with friends. While it isn’t advised to schedule in-person meetups with large groups of friends, an occasional get-together between “besties” can be really good for your child’s mental health. Arrange a playdate outdoors for young children (being mindful of the 5-person per week limit), and for older students, maybe a study session outdoors? Take care to maintain social distancing and have your child wear a face covering. While it isn’t “school like usual” with the variety of opportunities to interact, a few social activities a month can go a long way to promote health and wellbeing.

6. Be flexible!

Expect the need to shake things up. A routine is awesome and a schedule is great, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and it is okay to modify it if necessary. There will be days that your student is rocking it and crossing off one assignment after another. However, there will also be days when PJs and a bubble bath are the most important thing. Both are okay. 

What we are asking of our youth right now is unprecedented, and we must always keep our children’s health at the forefront. If you ever feel like your child is struggling, connect with their teacher (or other school staff) and ask for some advice. You don’t need to take on these challenging times alone.


Back to School: Set Them Up For Success

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For this week’s edition of the “Back-to-School” blog, I wanted to write about communication. While our routine schedules are out of whack and our minds may be racing with all the new information about remote learning, parents can further the success of their children if they engage in ongoing and healthy communication during this new school year.

Here are some things that you can do to help prepare your at-home learners this fall:

1. Reflect on last spring

It is okay to talk about trying times—we learn and grow from them. Ask your child about how they felt the spring went: what worked with distance learning and what didn’t? What would have made the transition from in-class to at-home better?

For some students (and adults), the quick transition from one system to another may have been really tough, and the thought of starting back this fall in a remote setting may bring up fear, anxiety, and frustration. While you discuss what a good system would look like for your student, make sure to reassure them that a lot of time and preparation has gone into each school’s reopening plan. This fall will not look like last spring!

2. Get to know their teacher and other school contacts

Many teachers are taking the time to introduce themselves to students individually this fall. Some educators are writing personalized letters, others are setting up Zoom meetings, and others are even meeting in-person with incoming students while adhering to social distancing. Take advantage of these opportunities and encourage your child to get to know their teacher—and have the teacher get to know them! That way, the first day of school will seem less intimidating, and you will already have introduced yourself in case there are any issues that need troubleshooting early on.

3. Review the lesson plan or syllabus with your child

This goes for itty bitty kindergartners all the way up through high school! While you may not need to read the syllabus to your 17-year-old, it can be helpful to look through some of the main highlights with your student. For some students, it may even be helpful to work through a schedule or project calendar together (something I will be blogging about next week).

Take a bit of time to check out the various online platforms that your student will be using, and ask the teacher if you have any questions or concerns. The schools are here to work with you, and if you don’t feel like you are getting the support you need, reach out!

4. Talk about how your student learns best and make a plan

You probably already know this from raising your child, but this knowledge can be really helpful when moving to a full-time remote learning set up. Does your child work better in groups? Does your pre-teen need to do something active every day to get the blood flowing? Does your teen struggle with asking for help? Try to make a daily schedule that incorporates some of these needs, and even communicate to the teacher about your student’s specific learning type.

5. Give positive feedback

During a regular school year, there are so many opportunities for feedback, praise, and celebration. Between awards nights, sports play-offs, recitals, and parent/teacher evenings, your child is most likely used to looking forward to these moments of celebration. While teachers and school staff are working tirelessly to provide some normalcy to an otherwise bizarre situation, it will be hard to provide these same types of opportunities for each child.

As the parent, be sure to find moments to celebrate your child’s successes (no matter how small) and praise them for their hard work. Provide constructive feedback as they work through their projects and assignments, and congratulate them on a job well done. Consider tacking up completed projects on a “display wall” in the house, or reserve a moment over dinner each week to discuss accomplishments. Whatever it is that you do, your child will have a moment to shine.

Checking in throughout the school year with your student won’t guarantee that they will get all As or prevent the inevitable frustrating moments. But it will ensure that your child knows that you are there for them during these difficult times.

Next week I will be posting about creating a schedule. See you then!


Back to School: Create A Space

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Well, folks … “COVID Summer” is almost officially in the rear-view mirror, and autumn is quickly approaching. Our local school districts have announced their fall re-opening plans, and families all around Skagit County are preparing for remote learning, at least for the foreseeable future. While these changes to normal life can feel intimidating, frustrating, and even emotional, we can take comfort in knowing that there are things we can do to support our at-home learners.

In order to help your student stay engaged this school year, there are several things to consider before school begins. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting about different topics that promote healthy, engaged, and effective learning environments for students, parents, and the family as a whole.

Today’s topic is all about SPACE!

In a typical school environment, students are given space: a desk, cubby, locker, or even a special place on a carpet. These spots are so important because it gives children a sense of belonging and purpose within their learning space. Now that students are doing the bulk (if not all) of their schooling at home, this personal space is even more crucial.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Type of Space

The type of space your child will need depends on their age. Young, elementary-age students will most likely need less structured space than an older child. Younger children will have a lot of questions, and may feel more comfortable being in a family space. While they will still need a table top for a tablet or laptop, much of their work could be completed on the dining room table (or even the floor!).

Older elementary school students and middle schoolers will require a desk with space for their laptop, as well as room for writing. These students will be required to log into virtual classrooms for longer periods of time, and may benefit from having their computer camera face a wall. That way, the student doesn’t need to be concerned about what is happening around them at home, and they can control what appears on the screen behind them.

High schoolers will need the most structured space, so a full-sized desk would be ideal. At this age, it may make sense to ask your high schooler about what type of environment would work best for them, and make a plan with their preferences in mind. For self-starters, maybe a desk in their room would work best. For social butterflies, perhaps having a space that still allows for controlled socialization would be the most effective.

2. Rotating/Flexible Space

Just like in a classroom setting, expect that your student will want to move around a bit. Elementary students are used to having different learning stations in the class, and middle and high schoolers move from room to room throughout the school day. It is okay—and even healthy—to allow for some movement at home. Maybe reading can be done on the couch, but all writing assignments should be done at the table. Maybe artwork can be done on the floor, and “class” can be moved outdoors on a beautiful, crisp autumn afternoon. Plan for some flexible learning space, and have expectations worked out with your children ahead of time.

3. Privacy and Limiting Distractions

There are so many distractions in our homes—TVs, toys, backyards, and soft couches for naps—so it is crucial to create a space that minimizes distractions and creates some privacy. For many, it may not be feasible to create an office space for each child, but there are some ways to get creative with space. An empty closet turned into a learning cubby, a strategically placed tri-fold on the dining room table, or a cute side table at the end of the hall can create “study stations” that feel purposeful—not thrown together—and keep distractions at bay.

For parents who aren’t able to be at home during the school day, talk to your students about cellphone usage during the day and make a plan about when (if at all) things like TV are allowed. Look into parental control options for TVs, smartphones, or tablets, if necessary.

3. Promote Health

Despite our best intentions, there is a good chance that our kids will end up doing a portion of their work from the couch, their bed, or sprawled out on the floor with their feet above their heads. When they are seated, try to make sure that their computer monitor and keyboard are at proper heights, and that the lighting won’t strain their eyes. Encourage your child to get up, stretch, and drink plenty of water during the day. All of these activities have been proven to help with information retention among youth.

4. Personalization

Your child may be feeling a bit bummed out about this new school year, and rightly so. By allowing them to personalize their own space, you can help to bring some of the fun and excitement back to “Back to School” prep. Not only will they be excited to use their new special space, the act of creating this space will give them a sense of ownership. Encourage your child to make the space their own, and allow them to decorate with pictures, quotes—whatever!—that makes them smile and feel good.

It is expected that there will be some bumps along the way, so if your system in September doesn’t seem to be working come October … switch it up! This year is all about experimenting, so try to have some fun with it. See you in the next edition!