Interview: Managing Allergies on Class Trips

Part 1: All students should go on class trips

For many students, the class trip is the highlight of the school year. It is no different for students with allergies. The European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) asked an experienced school nurse about the best way to conduct a class trip including children with allergies. Beate Deckelmann, 47, is the school nurse at Berlin Brandenburg International School (BBIS) in Kleinmachnow near Berlin. BBIS is an international English-language school with around 700 students from 65 nations, some with widely varying cultural backgrounds. The school makes a great effort to address the needs of students with allergies. It received ECARF certification this year.

“A class trip means that students will find themselves in a new environment and experience a different daily routine”, explains Deckelmann. “Out of the home, children with allergies are exposed to unknown situations which could lead to allergic reactions. At the same time, it is always our highest priority to include all students in the class trip.”

Preparation is everything

Preparing for the trip is the most important step to ensuring that everything goes smoothly. Once the goal and agenda of the class trip have been defined, Deckelmann goes over the details to identify potential risks for allergy sufferers. These are usually children with food allergies at risk of anaphylaxis. “I then look into the accommodations; we often go with youth hostels”, she says. “The first thing I do is send the hostel manager a list of the children’s intolerances and allergies. I also ask specifically whether they have any experience with these. If not, which is of course sometimes the case, I call the hostel and try to explain everything that is necessary.”

Not every youth hostel is willing to help

Often the first reaction of youth hostels that are not ready to accommodate allergy sufferers is to refuse the reservation. Either the entire class is not welcome, or it may be accepted without the students with allergies. Deckelmann understands their dilemma: “If the hostel lacks experience with allergy sufferers, the manager is simply worried that something could happen to the children”, she explains. “In my view, these concerns show that they feel a sense of responsibility. I then take the opportunity to provide information about allergies and the many ways hostels can deal with them.”

The most important factor in preparing for the hostel visit is usually the kitchen. “If it is not possible to cook separate meals for students with food allergies, I suggest another option – for example, that each student brings his or her own food from home. But it usually helps to go through the meal plan with the hostel manager or the cooks. In many cases there are fewer adjustments to be made than the kitchen staff first expect, and then everyone sees that the added work is negligible.”

Keep the Nutella off the tables

There are some youth hostels that are well prepared to accommodate guests with allergies. “Once we had a child with a severe hazelnut allergy in our group and there were other classes staying in the youth hostel at the same time. I requested that the Nutella be kept off the tables at breakfast and replaced with jam or honey. It was no problem at all. No one rolled their eyes or shook their head”, says Deckelmann happily.

‘Part 2: Safety first’ will appear on Wednesday 8 June.