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Springfield VT School Nurse Illustrates Need for Health Services Early and Often

December 30, 2018

Decades ago, when I was Superintendent in Exeter NH in the mid-1980s, I questioned the value of having two full time nurses in an elementary school that housed 550 students. That was then, but a recent article in our local newspaper, the Valley News, profiling the school nurse at Springfield HS in Vermont describes the situation now. Valley News writer Nora Burr-Doyle does an excellent job of describing the role of the high school nurse in today’s word, which is far different than the world I grew up in and far different from the world in the mid 1980s:

Being a school nurse is about much more than giving out bandages.

Such has been the experience of Jenny Anderson, a longtime nurse working at Springfield High School who recently was named Vermont’s school nurse of the year. She’s seen the profession evolve plenty in her 28 years on the job.

Anderson and the four other nurses tasked with caring for the district’s 1,500 students do tend to cuts and bruises, but they also increasingly find they are helping students to manage mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.Anderson’s work also has included developing school nutrition policies and preparing for emergencies.

“To get out of our office and do extra things is difficult sometimes, (but) that’s really important, connecting with teachers and students who don’t come to the office,” Anderson said in a recent interview at Springfield High.

The article describes how a highly functioning school nurse operates, but it also makes two important points: that the public fails to appreciate the need for health series in schools and that by the time a child enters high school it might be too late to help them:

One of the goals of teaching the teachers is to help drive home the connection between academics and health. It’s frustrating, Anderson said, that others in the community sometimes struggle to see that link.

“If kids were more healthy, then they would just be so much better behaviorally (and) do better academically,” she said.

While the high school has health educators, the elementary schools do not, Anderson said. Though many elementary school teachers incorporate elements of health education into their lessons, such as gardening and hygiene, and guidance counselors address subjects related to social and emotional wellness, there is no standardized health education curriculum for the elementary schools, she said.

“I feel like risky behaviors are developed by the time they get to junior high,” she said.

Ms. Burr-Doyle does an excellent job of capturing the role Ms. Anderson plays at Springfield HS, but she also captures the way Springfield HS serves as a hub for social services in the community, especially for children whose parents do not have comprehensive health care provided by their insurance:

To try to improve access, the school district began working with Springfield Medical Care Systems this year to provide doctor’s visits and dental cleanings at the schools, Anderson said. As a result, a doctor comes to one of the district’s schools each week. A dental hygienist visits when the school has five or six students in need of cleanings, Anderson said.

“It’s small right at the moment, but I really feel we’ve helped some kids get the services that they need,” Daniels said.

As states struggle to interject mental health services into their schools, they might look to Springfield, VT to see how it could be done through the school nurse’s office and by collaborating with local health care providers.

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