Cottage Grove Elementary is the first “Seizure Smart School” in District 833, but district lead nurse Tammy John hopes that it’s not the last.

The school recently became the first in District 833 to earn the designation from the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.

“What we’re probably trying to do is to help with the ongoing goal to provide resources and support to help students with seizures,” said John, who also is a nurse at Cottage Grove Elementary. “And we’re partnering with the Epilepsy Foundation to help them carry out their missions to help those who are affected by epilepsy in the community.”

Epilepsy affects an estimated 2.2 million Americans, including more than 300,000 under the age of 15. Many children and adults may also have undetected or untreated epilepsy, according to the Minnesota Epilepsy Foundation.

The Epilepsy Foundation contacted District 833 Assistant Superintendent Julie Nielsen about the Seizure Smart School program.

“She was interested in seeing if we could move this program throughout our district,” John said. “Kind of from there we’re spreading it out.”

It’s up to each school to determine whether it will launch its own Seizure Smart program, but a representative from the Epilepsy Foundation conducted a refresher training session Jan. 11 at the District Program Center for licensed nurses and health assistants from other District 833 schools. John said she has encouraged attendees to meet with their principal to discuss the program.

She estimates that every school in District 833 has at least one child with epilepsy.

While nurses are trained in spotting and responding to seizures, it’s the training students, staff and teachers that earns a school the Seizure Smart designation.

During a series of training sessions at Cottage Grove Elementary, teachers, students, paraprofessionals, nutrition services workers and custodians learned about the cause and treatment of seizures. They learned about different types of seizures, such as the relatively mild absence seizure, where a person may suddenly zone out for a few seconds.

“They might look like they’re daydreaming and have a blank stare,” John said. “It only lasts for a few seconds. Complex partial seizures are when people are not aware of what they’re doing. It can sometimes seem like they’re using drugs or alcohol or just very strange behavior out of nowhere. Simple partial seizures are where it might be one part of the body like the arm that’s jerking.”

The majority of seizures are not life-threatening, she said, even if it’s a grand mal or tonic clonic seizure, whose symptoms are full-body convulsions and the sudden inability to follow directions.

Most end by themselves. The biggest danger is that the person could fall and hit their head or strike it on a desk or other object. Thus, it’s important to gently sit or lay them down.

There’s usually no need to call 911, unless the seizure lasts more than five minutes.

“Turn them on their side make sure their airway is clear,” she said. But don’t put any fingers or other objects in their mouth. Remove any glasses or sharp objects that might cut them, but don’t restrain them as this could result in bone or muscle injuries.

John said she hopes the Seizure Smart initiative at Cottage Grove Elementary helped to dispel the fear and stigma of epilepsy among the students.

“I know one of the things we’ve had happen is that a child will have seizures in the lunchroom and a lot of the kids will be really upset and the nurse will end up backtracking around the classrooms to reassure the kids,” she said.

The remedy is to educate kids why seizures happen and to enlist their empathy for a classmate who may suffer from them, says Caroline Olstad, Seizure Smart Schools program manager for the Minnesota Epilepsy Foundation.

She conducted a series of epilepsy education classes with 70 students at Cottage Grove Elementary. They learned that a seizure is caused by a burst of electricity in the brain. In most cases, a seizure usually ends on its own and only leaves the person feeling tired.

“Sometimes they just need to lay down in the nurse’s office until they feel better and then they can combe back to class or recess,” Olstad said. “We read a children’s book that explains to them as well.”

Olstad recently did a training session for 25 students at Middleton ELementary School in Woodbury. She said she will also visit Liberty Ridge Elementary School in March.

Last year, Anoka-Hennepin became the first Seizure Smart district in the state.