Well before the pandemic hit, school nurses were taking care of much more than skinned knees, bloody noses and the occasional breakouts of head lice. COVID-19 certainly highlighted the importance of school nurses, but these health care professionals have always played a critical role in our students’ education.
School nurses promote wellness, they act as a liaison between students, families and healthcare providers, and they help with myriad issues that detract from a student’s performance in the classroom. Districts 75 and 120 will pay tribute to its nursing team during National School Nurse Day on Wednesday, May 11.
“Whether injury, illness or mental health, our team of nurses have worked as a single team to help individual students overcome the challenges they face,” said Kevin Myers, Superintendent for Districts 75 and 120. “That we can help our students to continue learning in the face of such adversity is a testament to all the school nurses on our staff.”
“The nursing staff has been asked to work with flexibility and creativity during the pandemic”, said Jamie DiCarlo, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services. “They’ve worked proactively to stay informed and up-to-date on the myriad changes to health procedures in the schools.”
“We appreciate our nursing staff for rising to the occasion and working hard to keep our school community healthy and safe,” DiCarlo said. “We are so proud of the diligence and compassion maintained throughout the Pandemic.”
Even though nurses felt the impact of the pandemic more than anyone, Debbie Tipperreiter, the lead Health Aide for Districts 75 and 120 said there was a silver lining of sorts.
“It brought everyone together as a team,” she said. “We now have a much tighter relationship amongst the health team, and more cohesiveness between buildings.”
School Nurse Day was established to foster a better understanding of the role of school nurses in an educational setting. More than anyone else, the nurses understand their impact on academic performance.
“It is our goal to improve each student’s health outcome and help them succeed in their education,” said Janette Swanston, a school nurse at the Mundelein High School Transition Center.
Part of their job is removing obstacles that keep students from learning. In some cases, poor eyesight led to reading problems. In other cases, students who stayed home with upset stomachs were struggling with anxiety. It takes teamwork to get the right diagnosis and resolve the issues.
“It takes a lot of collaboration and communication between the school nurse, the parents and the teachers to be able to treat the student as a whole and take their health and environment into account when assessing their educational goals,” said Cindi Pieklo, a school nurse at Mechanics Grove Elementary School.
They traditionally work together to identify students with health concerns, make nursing diagnoses, implement a plan of support for students with health needs and evaluate their progress. Their work often means consulting with parents, health care providers and school staff members. The collaboration was never more important as it was during the pandemic as COVID metrics rose and fell and mitigation procedures were in constant flux.
“We have leaned on each other when policies and procedures were changing weekly and have done it with respect for each other, all while maintaining our sense of humor and community,” Gouzoules said.
Tipperreiter said the nurses' offices are safe havens for students whether they’re physically ill, injured, or just feeling stressed. The school nurses, she said, have made that environment welcoming for children.
“I’m always amazed at the level of care these nurses give the kids,” Tipperreiter said. “It goes beyond what any of them learned in nursing school. This is that safe place because of how our nurses make them feel when they walk in the door.”
Nurses deal with some very serious health issues while also handling stressed out children who just need support and love. Nurses can provide that too.
“Sometimes it is giving a hug and encouraging them,” Gouzoules said. “All of these things affect the student’s ability to learn and grow.”
The complete nursing team for Districts 75 and 120 includes: Lead Health Aide Debbie Tipperreiter; Health Aide Karla Clark; Lincoln School Nurse Anesu Bumhira; Washington School Nurse and District 75 CSN Kathy Gouzoules; Washington School Health Aide Elizabeth Mule; Mechanics Grove School Nurse Cindi Pieklo; Mechanics Grove Health Aide Carol Juarez Antunez; Carl Sandburg Middle School Nurse Anne Craig; Carl Sandburg Health Aide Ashley Rivera; Mundelein High School Nurse Susan Lange; Mundelein High School Nurse Rebecca Elkins; School District 120 Transition Center Nurse and D120 CSN Jan Swanston; and Mundelein High School 1:1 Nurse Maggie Pieper.