By Melissa Willette

It seems like only yesterday that our children were wrapping up their last day of school and heading off to the pool, summer camp, and family vacation. Yet, the new academic year will soon be here, and it's time to think about what's needed to prepare them for a safe and healthy start in the classroom.

From obtaining required vaccinations to teaching youngsters basic hygiene habits and helping teenagers cope with acne, the responsibilities we face as parents are always challenging, no matter their age.

Here are some tips to help make your job a little easier. Sports and school physicals Increasingly, students are required to obtain exams and physicals at the beginning of the school year. For middle and high schoolers, a sports physical is needed before student athletes can practice and play interscholastic sports. These exams assess your child's physical condition and ability to participate in sports and determine any issues that would put them at risk.

If you have a college freshman, many schools also require a physical prior to enrollment, so be sure to check the admission requirements in advance. Immunizations Making sure your student is up to date on required vaccinations in Massachusetts is an important item for your back to school checklist. Immunizations schedules vary between states, so if you have recently moved to the area, be sure to review local requirements here.

For youngsters beginning preschool and kindergarten, they must be current on doses of their early age vaccinations: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis or whooping cough); Hepatitis B; Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b protecting against meningitis, pneumonia and epiglottis, or severe throat infection); Polio; MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella); and Varicella (chicken pox).

Seventh and ninth grades are key years in Massachusetts. A Tdap vaccination (also for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) is required for seventh graders. And students living on campus at private high schools need to be immunized for meningitis before ninth grade. That same stipulation is required of all freshmen entering Massachusetts colleges and universities who are living in dorms and have not previously been vaccinated.

Remember to schedule appointments for exams and immunizations in advance because primary care providers often vacation during summer months. A retail clinic, such as MinuteClinic located in CVS Pharmacy stores throughout the state, is also an option for school physicals and vaccinations, and is open seven days a week. Always remember to bring your child's vaccination record. Hygiene tips Shortly after school begins, we see a steady stream of schoolchildren with contagious conditions, such as strep throat and conjunctivitis (pink eye). That's why I always encourage parents to emphasize basic hygiene and germ prevention, especially with the young ones heading off to preschool and kindergarten for the first time.

Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the restroom and before they eat when their hands will be touching their food and mouth.

Show them how to sneeze into their sleeve -- not their hands -- or to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue and throw it away. Make sure they know not to share drinks in the cafeteria or water bottles on the playground -- also a good reminder for older students, particularly if they play on sports teams.

Lastly, caution them about sharing hats and towels, both common ways for lice to spread. Locker room towels can also be breeding grounds for a variety of bacteria including MRSA, which is responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections that affect various parts of the body. Acne Acne is an emotional issue for many adolescents and may affect their self-esteem as they begin classes in the fall. Changes in hormones, stress, and certain medications and cosmetics can all be triggers.

A combination of over-the-counter products and prescription medications may be needed to achieve clearer skin. In addition, there are some steps they can take to help remove excess oil and old skin cells, and promote new skin growth.

First, consider a shorter hair style. Long hair can cause skin to be oiler; especially if it hangs in your child's face, goes unwashed, or if they sweat a lot. Use gentle shampoos and conditioners, and avoid gels and oils that can get in their face and clog their pores.

Next, be mindful of areas where tight-fitting items rub the skin and cause irritation. This includes helmets for sports, headbands, bra straps, and high-collared shirts and sweaters.

Daily face washing is important, but keep it gentle. Heavy scrubbing, harsh soaps, and hot water can cause acne to get worse. Avoid makeup whenever possible, and always make sure it's removed at the end of the day.

Here's one final tip for students of any age: Give them a hug and some encouragement on Day One and every day after. A positive attitude always contributes to good health!

Melissa Willette is a mother and family nurse practitioner who works at MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy store in Raynham.