My first two years of teaching were rough. Everyone’s first years are difficult. Experienced teachers will tell you not to plan anything major for these first few years, but I suppose I wasn’t very good at listening because I had my daughter my first year and spent the second pregnant with my son. During those years there was one person who became a source of support: our school nurse.
Whenever I would walk by her office, she’d pop out (I swear she had hidden cameras or a network of informers) and pull me into her office to check my blood pressure and ask about my day. As my due dates approached, she’d pop into my classroom to make sure I was doing okay. I honestly attribute much of my health during those pregnancies, and my healthy babies, to her.
As school campuses reopen during this pandemic our students, teachers, and school staff need guardian angels such as these. Our school nurses and health assistants are going to be busy.
Take a moment to think about what the average Arizona elementary school health office, that’s pre-K to 5 with approximately 550 students, might experience on a daily basis. In addition to the regular dispensing of medication, and the occasional breathing treatment, they see bathroom accidents, upset tummies, playground scrapes and bruises, homesickness, allergic reactions, fevers, rashes, headaches, and sniffles. All that is addressed by a health aide and, if they’re lucky, an LPN or RN.
Why would they be lucky to have a school nurse, you might ask? That’s because school nurses fall under administration costs in the Arizona K-12 education budget. It’s not just Arizona, either. According to the National Association of School Nurses, 76.7% of funding for school nurses nationwide comes from local education dollars, meaning they are funded through local tax efforts, not state or federal dollars.
We are facing a shortage of school nurses much in the same way we are experiencing a teaching shortage, meaning that schools will have to hire someone to fill the position. A check of my local school district shows they have four school nurse positions, three nurse assistant positions, and three special education CNA positions still open. An RN hired into that position can expect to start at $21.19 an hour, which means that they’d have to be enticed by the 196 day schedule, or the hours that might align with their children’s, as they could make much more elsewhere.
School nurses do so much more than just treat boo-boos and upset tummies, though. They maintain all the immunization records for the school and administer vision and hearing screenings. School nurses tend to be the ones organizing wraparound services for kids who need dental care, a new pair of glasses, or a bag of food to take home. The school nurses I’ve worked with are the ones I call when one of my teenagers is impaired or screaming a cry for help.
Since March, the amazing school nursing staff in my local district have been preparing to welcome students and staff back to campuses. They’ve been training to respond to possible COVID-19 outbreaks within the school, participating in committees to share their expertise with district policymakers, and even sewing masks for staff. I am continually in awe of all they are doing to keep our community healthy.
As I write this, I can’t help but wonder if we are shortchanging one of the simplest things we can do to keep kids in school. Research shows that having a school nurse on campus improves student attendance, which leads to increased academic achievement. School nurses can assist with staff wellness, meaning fewer sick days are taken and overall health is improved. And time! Think of the time saved when a school nurse is able to address health concerns, rather than a school administrator.
Perhaps this pandemic is the perfect time to refocus our attention on preventative measures, therefore I propose we begin with school nurses. If you have the chance, talk to one, ask them about their day, bestow a random act of kindness upon them. School nurses have been keeping our schools healthy for years, but they are about to shine.
What can you do to support your school nurse?