Improving School Health from All Angles

July 14, 2015 | Written By:

This May, HSC proudly announced the winners of our second annual School Nurse Leadership Award. It’s an award that acknowledges the tireless commitments that school nurses make, and is supported by School Health Corporation and MAICO Diagnostics. The five winners and five honorable mentions selected from across the country represent school nurses who are reimagining the role they play in school health and wellness, students’ academic success and the health of the larger community. In this blog, we speak with winner Sandy Lawinger.

Sandy Lawinger’s approach to nursing in her school district takes a 360-degree view; it’s not just about interacting with the kids. A huge part of Sandy’s work as a district nurse in the Community Consolidated School District #89 in suburban Glen Ellyn, Ill., is helping teachers and staff create a foundation of health and wellness. “Staff wellness is something that impacts all the staff, which eventually means it impacts the students,” she said.

As the chair of the Employee Wellness Committee, Sandy performs an annual wellness screening for staff. She then aggregates that information to create a professional development plan that focuses on the top four concerns. Very often, she says, some of those concerns are recurring: depression, stress and a low perception of their own health.

Sandy’s approach is based in research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Coordinated School Health (CSH) as a strategy for improving health and learning in our nation’s schools. One of the eight components of CSH is health promotion for staff.

Since becoming chair of the wellness committee, Sandy has seen an increase in staff participation in various activities, such as annual flu shots and wellness screenings. She says this approach goes well with the state’s increased interest in social and emotional learning for students. “Teachers can’t teach it if they don’t know it,” she said.

But Sandy also works with the parents to improve student health. One initiative she spearheaded was a concussion awareness campaign. In 2011, the Illinois General Assembly amended the school code regarding concussions. Although the district changed its policies to match the state’s, the district hadn’t communicated this change to parents. The letter Sandy created outlined specific symptoms parents should watch for in case school staff wasn’t at the school to intervene.

Sandy also worked to create a list of preapproved foods that can be served at school functions. She deemed this necessary because while the school wellness policy that she helped write included healthy foods, it did not mention foods that are safe for all students to eat. A review of the health needs of the students showed that 7 percent of the district’s 2,000 students have documented food allergies, and 69 students have emergency medication available at school for potential life-threatening allergic reactions. Sandy sought parental feedback from all five schools in the district when making the list of approved, safe foods. And now, food offered at all school-related events — except those designated as “family events” that take place with both students and parents — must be selected from a district-wide preapproved list.

This helps students with allergies stay engaged with the school community without having to worry about what they’re eating and possible reactions, she said.

Congrats to Sandy for being selected as a 2015 School Nurse Leadership Award winner! Thank you for the work you’ve done — and continue to do — to improve the health and wellness of your students and community. Click here to read more 2015 School Nurse Leadership Award winner profiles.

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