Heroes for Healthy Schools Spotlight On: School Nurse Marlene Diaz

April 06, 2011

Healthy Schools Campaign is pleased to announce Heroes for Healthy Schools: Coming together for student wellness and achievement, a series that HSC is presenting with Chicago Public Schools and the Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to recognize Minority Health Month and highlight the role everyone can play in ensuring that all children are able to succeed in school and live healthy lives.

Today, school nurse leaders from across Chicago are gathering for a leadership summit to learn about updates in the field and discuss their role in helping schools make healthy eating, physical activity and nutrition education a regular part of the school experience. We are thrilled to spotlight Marlene Diaz, a school nurse leader who took part in HSC's school nurse leadership program.

To read more profiles and nominate your own hero for healthy schools, visit www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/healthheroes

Marlene Diaz, BSN M.Ed RN CSN, has had a long nursing career with specializations in pediatrics and neonatal care as well as  labor and delivery, experience as the Health Disabilities Coordinator for the Department of Human Services and 15 years of Chicago Public Schools school nursing under her belt.  Currently, Diaz is working as the school nurse at Alessandro Volta Elementary School, located in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood.

Volta is located in a multi-ethnic community with a very diverse student body where 90 percent of the students come from a home where English is a second language.  Despite language barriers, Diaz makes it a priority to build connections around health and wellness.

“A big challenge is getting everyone together at one time and getting interpreters for the parents. Our school is very diverse — we have people who speak Arabic, Gujarati, Spanish and English,” said Diaz.

Diaz says that partnerships also play a role in making wellness part of the school experience. Volta has a partnership with an organization called Family Focus, a family support program that focuses on supporting the health and wellness of a child from birth by strengthening the family in and with their community. Family Focus provides centers in the communities for parents and children to connect with their neighbors at no cost, as well as offering after-school enrichment programs for students and their families. Family Focus is working directly with Volta by offering parents who participate in their workshops opportunities for other classes such as English language classes and computer classes.

Diaz notes that in such a diverse school, she also sees a wide range of religions that are practiced by students, which can have an impact on their health at school. Over the past 15 years, Diaz has learned to familiarize herself with some of the different dietary restrictions, such as fasting, that may come with different religions — in addition to dietary considerations such as food allergies.

“We have students who eat Kosher, are vegetarian or have allergies. My concern over the past fifteen years is that the students are getting the nutrition they need,” she said.

Diaz has learned a lot about health and wellness through her career as a nurse, but also looks to people in her personal life for guidance.

“My health heroes are my kids, and also my son-in-law,” said Diaz, recalling her experience embarking on a 21-day vegan healthy eating regimen with him. “I’m not sure if I liked it, but I learned how to eat healthier!”

Kudos to Marlene and all the school nurses who are making wellness a priority at school!