Nurses play key role in schools
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Eagle Staff Writer
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January 10, 2018
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Liz Williams, school nurse at the Seneca Valley Middle School, which has seventh- and eighth-grade students, said at the secondary level nurses work closely with guidance counselors to do what is best for children.

School nurses care for children from the time they arrive in school to when they leave, but the job requires much more than handing out ice packs and soothing sour stomachs.

Nurses have a laundry list of responsibilities and often go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure students of all ages are looked after.

“People just think we hand out Band-Aids all day long,” said Tracy Dailey, school nurse at Allegheny-Clarion Valley School District. “It's far, far from it. We have some pretty significant health issues that we deal with on top of the Band-Aids and skinned knees and lost teeth. You never know what's going to walk through your door.”

In Butler County, 39 certified school nurses and 10 health technicians take care of the 27,000 children in public, private and parochial schools.

The school nurse is the main facilitator of health and wellness of students in the school building, said Jennifer Webb, communications director for South Butler School District.

That means day-to-day care for illnesses and injuries, managing chronic illnesses and other special needs, tracking state-required immunizations, administering prescribed medications, performing medical procedures and building wellness throughout the school.

School nurses also provide education to students, family and faculty on various health, hygiene and safety issues.

“The school nurse is both a proactive agent for healthy choices/practices and a responder to health and wellness issues,” Webb said.

On top of that, many school nurses take on additional projects like coordinating holiday gift programs, community flu-shot clinics and weekend “backpack” meal programs.

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Liz Williams, a nurse at the Seneca Valley Middle School, talks with guidance counselor LaVarr Stephens-Howling at the school. Williams said nurses work closely with guidance counselors to do what is best for children.
DAVE PRELOSKY/CRANBERRY EAGLE

“In addition to the student reporting requirements and screenings, plus immunization management, it's a very large list of duties,” said Cyndi Jones, school nurse at Freeport high and middle schools.

School nurses must be certified by the state Department of Education. To become certified a person must have a bachelor's of science degree in nursing, a current registered nursing license with the state Department of Health, a GPA of 3.0 or higher, current CPR certification and criminal background checks that are required of all school employees.

One school nurse is required for every 1,500 students according to Pennsylvania School Code. Public school nurses are also required to cover children in private or parochial schools within the district boundaries.

As children get older, their needs change.

Middle and high school students are more independent to manage their own medical needs, but also face additional peer pressures.

Secondary school nurses focus more on things like mental health, drug and alcohol education and teen pregnancy, nurses say.

“At the high school level, there's more anxiety and mental health,” Jones said. “Not so much at the elementary level.”

Liz Williams, school nurse at the Seneca Valley Middle School which has seventh- and eighth-grade students, said at the secondary level they work closely with guidance counselors to do what is best for children.

As students get older and their daily routines change, nurses have more staff members to bring into the loop about health care needs, Williams said.

“When they're in the elementary buildings, they're with one teacher all the time,” she said. 'When they come to my building they have eight different teachers every day. So we have to educate more people on what their needs are.”