DAVIS COUNTY, Utah -- The growth rate of Type 1 diabetes among Utah students in grades K-12 is rapid.
The Utah Health Department said the most recent data shows in the 2015 to 2016 school year, there were 2,000 Type 1 diabetic students statewide.
The Davis County School District recognized the rapid increase in newly diagnosed students more than five years ago, and at that time they developed a Diabetes Education Program.
They collaborated with The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, and the Primary Children’s Hospital diabetes clinic to develop their program.
“We've had 56 graduates in this program the past five years,” said Adam King, one of the program coordinators. “Our number of diabetics has gone up exponentially over the years. There are new ones being diagnosed every day. We had three new ones diagnosed this week."
King said the program provides a valuable service, especially to children who may feel afraid after a diagnosis.
"And being able to have this program helps parents, helps educators, helps students have some confidence because it’s scary to be diagnosed with diabetes; it's life-threatening," he said. "When they are so young it can cause a lot of fear and apprehension.”
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease and means the pancreas organ has stopped doing its job, which is to produce insulin to break down the food you’re eating and turn it into nutrients and energy for your body to use. If the disease is not controlled, it can cause major complications and even become deadly.
“When a student is more worried about being able to survive day-to-day, whether they are hungry, whether their blood sugar is going to be up or down, how it's impacting them, they don't have the brain power to think about learning their math or their science or English,” King said. “A program like this takes all the students as they come, with disabilities, with diabetes, and gives them a safe, appropriate education.”
The program is catered to individual diabetics. Some students are older or have a better grasp of their condition early on.
Diabetes can be diagnosed at any age. The program is step-based and starts with the essentials, then progresses to counting carbohydrates and calculating how many insulin units a diabetic would need to inject or dial on their insulin pump.
“… It starts with basics such as washing hands or starting to recognize how they're feeling, and it develops up through five levels of getting to the point where they are counting their own carbs, doing their own blood sugar checks, and giving their own insulin doses," King said. "At the end they have a one-month trial where they are doing things without having a [Teacher's Assistant] standing there giving that support.”
Recently at Knowlton Elementary School, 8-year-old Emerie Gelter, graduated from the program earlier than most diabetic students her age. Emerie is still in second grade.
“We are very proud of Emerie,” said King as he handed her a certificate of graduation from the program. “She has gone through a lot of stuff. She has great family support, but she also does a good job with advocating for herself. She is very precocious. She is very excited and that helps her being a self-advocate.”
The program is critical for most diabetic students because they learn to take care of themselves at school as they move on to higher levels of learning.
“A lot of times we have students who focus on safety so much that they learn a helplessness to where they expect someone to do everything for them,” King said. “And while we want them to be safe, we also want them to develop those skills.”
The Davis County School District is aware other districts do not use the same diabetes program and have talked with parents who have diabetic children who attend other districts. Those parents have seen what Davis is doing and are encouraged by the results.
Davis County would like to see all Utah schools implement a Diabetes Education Program similar to this one.
“I don't know why it's not at other schools; this is something we developed on our own about five years ago because we recognized that while we were trying to achieve our goal with the students self-managing, there wasn't a good way to show their progress," King said. "This isn't a one-size fits-all program; this is something that we take standardization and framework and cater to what a student needs and the pace they want to move at.”
If you want to explore the program at Davis County School District, click here.