- Cleburne Independent School District
Smith Sixth Grader on a Mission to Educate Students About Food Allergies
Smith Middle School sixth grader Trinity Borden is on a mission to educate students—and raise awareness—about the impact food allergies can have on their classmates.
Districtwide, more than 250 students have reported food allergies, including 82 diagnosed with an allergy to nuts. Borden is among them. At age three, she became one of the 2.5 percent—and growing--of children nationwide with a peanut allergy.
Since the fall, the 12-year-old has been a guest reader in classes at Gerard, Irving and Marti elementary schools. She comes equipped with the book, Penny and the Peanut, sharing the story of Penny, who has an allergic reaction after eating peanut butter cookies with her friend, Madison. As the story unfolds, Madison learns the importance of recognizing the signs of an allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, to help save her friend.
For Borden, it’s the storybook version of a condition she has learned to live with and respond to, in keeping herself safe.
“Ever since my mom let me know about my allergies, I’ve been aware of others with this same condition—and worse,” she said. “I’ve known how to use an EpiPen for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had to use it—but I know I can.”
Borden’s mother, Georgina, is a registered nurse and a member of the CISD health services staff. After attending a Food Allergy Research and Education Food Allergy (FARE) Summit, she chose to go a second time last fall, accompanied by Trinity.
“I’ve gone to the conference to get ideas and help—as both a parent and a school nurse,” Georgina said. “They offer sessions for teens ages 11 and up, and I decided this would be a good learning experience for Trinity, in providing her with helpful information.”
“In the last ten years, because of the prevalence of peanut allergies, there are a lot of new products and resources for children with nut-related allergies,” she said. “Many family-friendly venues have also become sensitive to the needs of children who live with this. Great Wolf Lodge is one example, as it has become ‘food allergy friendly’ and doesn’t serve peanut or tree nut products.”
It was at the FARE Summit that Trinity first saw the book, Penny and the Peanut. Thoughts of sharing the story with elementary students soon began to develop.
“I want kids to learn about this at an early age,” she said. “This is the kind of allergy that can be very serious. I feel the story is informative, and it tells a lot in a way that is understandable to children.”
One of Trinity’s first reading appearances was to kindergarten students in Victoria Solis’ classroom at Irving.
“We try to reinforce to students that we can’t share food in the cafeteria or at snack time because that’s not a safe thing to do, because of food allergies,” Solis said. “So many of our students have food allergies—or might and don’t know it. My students enjoyed having Trinity read to them—it’s not every day we have a ‘big kid’ come for a visit. I think it’s great she is doing this.”
From being asked if she is allergic to broccoli, can she have ice cream and what about avocados—since they contain a nut—to what happens to her when she is exposed to peanuts, Trinity strives to provide answers to little learners that are based on fact and will build awareness and understanding.
“I also like reading to the older kids,” she said. “I think they understand and realize the message in the story--and can do more about it. Nearly every class I read to had at least one student with food allergies.”
“The older kids want to know the ‘how,’” Trinity said. “They ask how I know I’m having an allergic reaction, how it feels and how long it takes me to get back to normal,” she said. “This is just part of who I am. I don’t hardly think about it—I know I have it and need to be cautious. It can be a challenge at times, when my throat begins to feel itchy, not knowing if I’m responding to something in the air or if I’m having a reaction. If I don’t feel better after taking Benadryl, I know I’m having a reaction. When that happens, I’ve come to learn that I’m going to be okay—all will be fine. But it’s still a little scary when my throat itches and I get that small worry that it’s the start of a reaction.”
Trinity makes it clear, in talking with scholars of all ages, that while she must be smart in her food choices, she doesn’t let her condition get in the way of all she wants to do. She has performed in multiple Plaza Theatre and school productions and theater arts will be one of her seventh-grade electives next year. As a student at Wheat Middle School, she will be competing in softball, reflecting several seasons in the sport through the Cleburne Baseball and Softball Association. She also plans to attend volleyball camp this summer.
“I’ve never thought about this as something I’m having to miss out on when it comes to certain kinds of foods,” she said. “I know it wouldn’t be smart if I ate something I shouldn’t—because I won’t enjoy it.”
“It’s up to me to be aware of my surroundings because some people don’t know or understand that because of my food allergies I can get seriously ill—or worse,” she said. “I’m not alone in this, and I want to help others to understand and be ready to help.”
Trinity plans to continue with her mission to get fellow students “in the know” when it comes to food allergies, with help from her storybook friend, Penny. It’s a quest she shares with her mother. She has also invested in a pair of red Converse tennis shoes in support of Saturday’s International Red Sneakers Day for food allergy awareness.
“I have a passion for this—to teach, preach and educate people as to what an allergic reaction looks like and the use of an EpiPen,” Georgina Borden said. “I feel like it’s my mission. It makes me proud that Trinity has come alongside me with her own mission—and to have the courage and confidence to advocate for herself. She has a voice—and is not scared to use it.”