As more schools and state education departments confront the reality of concussions in high school sports, many are finding out how former student athletes live with the effects of concussions.

Joelle Castle would eat, sleep and breathe cheerleading when she was a high school sophomore.  A top honor student with a 4.2 average, her life revolved around practices, competitions, and studying.  But all that changed in October 2011 when she suffered the first of eight concussions in a 2 year span.

Now she is recovering from severe brain trauma and has a serious muscle condition, along with learning disabilities.

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“I had never not been the stereotype of what you would think a cheerleader would be, and for the first time, I was,” Castle said. “It was horrible at the time,    but I am glad it happened to me because it changed my whole outlook on everything.”

Statistics show that concussion rates among students ages 8 to 19 have more than doubled in the past 10 years. Gloucester County Public Schools recently began tracking the number of student concussions, and last year noted a total of 58, but those are just the ones reported.

Virginia schools are required to institute a concussion policy for student athletes, but according to Shirley Chirch, Gloucester’s environmental health and safety manager, the division has decided to take it one step farther and implement a policy for all students from elementary to high school.

The policy not only includes a “return to play” procedure but also a “return to learn” portion that will make teachers aware of a student’s medical issues following a concussion and that accommodates a gradual return to full classroom participation.

The return to learn policy is now a Virginia state schools requirement.

All teachers and coaches have been given the division’s return to activity protocol, including a checklist of what to look for and report to parents and nurses.

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