Levy dollars focus: Nurses help students

Levy dollars focus: Nurses help students stay in school
Posted on 01/07/2020
Graphic: Tahoma has 9 nurses; the state pays for one
Washington state education dollars pay for one nursing position for all of Tahoma’s nine school buildings. The district pays for eight additional nursing positions using levy funds provided by the Educational Programs and Operations Levy approved by voters in April of 2018.

Parents of students with chronic health conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes, severe food allergies and seizure disorders often tell district nurses that if they simply wouldn’t send their child to school if there were no nurse available.

“Students learn best when they’re healthy and safe and feel like they’re a part of their school. School nurses help keep students in school so they can be educated, and they provide them with emergency care while they’re there,” said Jennifer Lyons, Tahoma’s Nursing Coordinator. “Things like diabetes, asthma and life-threatening allergies exist in our world today, and can impede our students from having access to an education.”

The existing EP&O levy will expire at the end of 2020; in February, the ballot will include a replacement levy that would begin collection in 2021. For details, click here.

In addition to the obvious tasks such as applying Band-aids, icing an injury and checking for fevers, school nurses also:

*Help diabetic students manage their blood sugar levels to avoid dangerous conditions and loss of consciousness.
*Administer medications for students who have medical authorizations on file.
*Help develop and execute plans to keep students with medical devices such as PICC lines, feeding tubes, ports and other medical devices safe while at school.
*Help develop and execute plans for students with broken bones and other injuries to stay safe while at school.
*Assess symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, rashes and more.
*Listen to students in crisis, and connect them with counselors and other resources as needed. This includes mental health issues, family or other relationship concerns, helping students who are feeling physical symptoms due to anxiety, stress, bullying, and other situations.
*Help students with an array of needs such as hygiene, hunger, and social emotional needs.
*Treat and monitor students with chronic health conditions such as asthma and seizure disorders.
*Conduct annual vision and hearing screenings, with the support of volunteers.
*Assess and treat staff in emergency situations.
*Keep EpiPens available for students with severe allergies, and assess whether they are needed in potential exposure situations.
*Go on field trips, or, in the case of Camp Casey, prepare information and plans for students who will be accompanied by a school nurse from another school in the district.

At Cedar River Elementary, there are several students with conditions that would be dangerous or extremely difficult to manage safely without a nurse in the building. One family told nurse Chelsi Allard that if she wasn’t there on a daily basis, they would have had to homeschool their child. Earlier this year, a student broke a bone at school and Allard helped him before he was transported to the doctor. In a later conversation, the student’s parent let Allard know that the doctors said if she hadn’t stabilized the break the way she did, the child would have needed surgery.

Allard said it’s a team effort at Cedar River, and that the front office staff, paraeducators and teachers all help her take care of students. Registrar Anna Pabisz, who occasionally helps students who aren’t feeling well when Allard is away from the health room, said that Allard is “a gem.”

Glacier Park parent Camery Turley said her son, Crew, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes just before he was supposed to begin a new year of preschool at Lake Wilderness Elementary. Turley said their initial instinct was that public school would be out of the question. But because preschool was a few hours long and there was a nurse available in the building, they decided to try it.

“It went really well for us,” Turley said. “When we transitioned to Glacier Park for full-day school … and we found out there was a new nurse, we were panicking.”

But then they met Glacier Park’s nurse, Jessi Lish, and she immediately jumped in to learn how Crew’s blood sugar monitoring technology worked, and other details about his care.

“From day 1, I could not have hoped for more support and skill and empathy for our situation,” Turley said. “She is so on top of it. … She is 100 percent vital to his success in public school.”

Kelly McKee, who has a son with Type 1 Diabetes as well as a son who has a serious allergy, said that their family moved to the area shortly before her son, Gavin, was diagnosed with diabetes. When they discovered that Tahoma had a nurse in each building, and that Issaquah School District (their other top choice) did not, they felt fortunate.

Now in sixth grade, Gavin was able to attend Camp Casey with his classmates last year thanks to nurses who attended and kept him safe during activities and while he slept, McKee added.

“If there was not a full-time nurse there, our lives would probably look a lot different, and one of us would probably have had to work from home to be available to administer his medicine,” she said.

The number of daily student visits to the nurse at each building range from about 50 to 70 at the elementary level, from about 40 to 60 at the middle schools and just over 30 per day at the high school.

Nurses at each building work in concert with the building counselors, mental health and wellness coordinators at the middle schools, and Behavioral Intervention Specialists.

At Maple View Middle School, nurse Angie Davis estimates that as many as half of the students she sees have anxiety, stress or other mental health challenges that lead to physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches.

From the outside, it’s easy to underestimate the level of need and the variety of situations school nurses handle, Davis said. “I volunteered a lot when my kids were at Lake Wilderness. Truly before I took this job, I don’t think I had a clue of the workload and the scope. … It’s a lot more than just a Band-Aid or an ice pack.”

Special Services Director Annette Whittlesey, who oversees the nursing staff, said they are key to keeping students safe and supporting their health needs, but also to proactive and preventative efforts such as tracking immunizations and writing plans for individual students.

“Our nurses are part of the team that looks at the whole child and makes sure we’re talking about all their needs,” Whittlesey said. “It’s an integral part of the wraparound support for our students and families.”

Tahoma’s nurses could make more money by working in the healthcare field outside the school system, but they enjoy their work because they want to help students and families, and they also enjoy being a part of the school community.

“I didn’t know I wanted to be a school nurse until I was one,” said Lyons, who said she loves the connections she has made and the relationships she has built while helping students and staff members. “People like to speak about nurses as being kind and helpful -- and they are -- but really what they are is critical to maintaining the health of students so that they have access to education.”
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