Parents have made St Kevin’s Catholic Primary Eastwood an allergy friendly environment, fostering a greater sense of inclusion along the way.
The school’s Food Allergy Awareness Committee was formed by a group of parents after Bianca Leehy’s eldest son William, now in Year 4, started Kindergarten with a severe gluten allergy and she saw the need for greater awareness. William’s siblings, James and Thomas, are also at the school and allergic to gluten.
There are 23 students with anaphylaxis or severe food allergies enrolled at the school, which is a nut free zone. Egg, dairy and gluten free options are present at cake stalls, discos and other school events, served at a yellow covered table to denote their allergy-friendly status.
Cards with each allergic student’s name and trigger foods are left at the table for volunteers to cross-check with yellow cards that list the ingredients of the food being served. EpiPens and other medications are stored in yellow boxes at the same table in case of an emergency at events including the school’s Freaky Friday Disco in October.
It’s about education and raising community awareness.
“There is a risk that we try to minimise as a group, to make sure that every child can be involved in all aspects of school life and stay safe,” Mrs Leehy said. “It’s not a lifestyle choice.
“Allergies are so much in the media these days, but I think you’ve got to bring it back to the fact that a kid’s life is in danger if they eat a certain food. The last thing any of us would want is to have to rush a child off to the hospital because they ate the wrong food, so it’s about education and raising community awareness.”
There have been some kids who have had reactions out of school, so a lot of the kids know what to do – to be calm and get and adult.
“The kids are great. They know what their friends can’t drink and eat. Even with birthday parties, they will say ‘William is coming to the party but he can’t eat gluten, what are you going to feed him?’, so they are also educating their parents that are not in our situation.
“We’ve also been able to get gluten free host for the church. Now the ones who can’t eat wheat can participate in that very special sacrament.”
Geraldine Agahari was among the parents who visited classrooms during Allergy Awareness Week to share information with students and answer their questions. She said the school’s supportive stance was behind her decision to enrol her children Emerick, 11, Gwendolyn, 10, and Leia, 5 at St Kevin’s.
“It ticked a huge box for me in how proactive the school was with regard to food allergies and the seriousness with which they take them,” she said.
Principal Mandy Westgate said the initiative allowed all children to feel included at events where food was served.
“If this sort of thing doesn’t happen where the parents and the teachers and the principal work together, the school wouldn’t be like this today,” she said. “If you had a child with a disability attend the school, you would put in ramps. It is a matter of equity. Children deserve to participate in the life of the school. ”
The committee has also made photographs of the ingredient list of every food sold in the canteen available so parents can make their children with allergies aware of what they can or can’t eat there. “We emailed it to all the parents in the committee and a few others from the community that wanted a copy because they might not want their children to have any food additives or food colours,” Mrs Leehy said. “None of these kids ever went to the canteen before we did that.”
“Those parents who work full time and have kids who can’t eat gluten, or dairy, or eggs, now know that they can put in a lunch order.
“There’s a protocol for everything – for lunch orders, for making cakes for disco night, for bringing cakes for birthdays into the classroom. It has been a work in progress and we’ve had a very good response from parents and teachers.”