What’s All in a Day’s Work for a School Nurse Leader

  • May 13, 2015
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The work of a school nurse leader is challenging and varied

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 Carla Smith.

The work of a school nurse is as important as it is varied. Carla Smith understands this well. As a school nurse for the Ellis School in Fremont, New Hampshire, Carla has developed an EpiPen training program, created a Halloween candy buyback program and built a symbiotic relationship between a babysitting class and the community.

As a project for her master’s degree in nursing, Carla began looking into the use of EpiPens. Data show that one in 13 students in the U.S. has an allergy that results in an anaphylactic shock. Carla found that it was closer to one in eight in some of the grade levels in her school. What’s more, she found that teachers were not properly trained to administer the EpiPen to students. During a training session, only one school staffer was able to complete the four steps of EpiPen administration. “Teachers go to school to teach; they don’t go to school to give EpiPens,” she said.

Once she collected this data, she presented and published it as part of her degree, but she also presented it to her school principal, the district superintendent and the school board. She got the support to incorporate a training program at her school at the beginning of every school year. Now, all teachers — even if they’ve been trained before — receive EpiPen training at the beginning of the year. This research also allowed Carla to get $1,000 added to her annual budget to purchase EpiPens for the school to have on hand.

Carla has also developed programs that focus on health and wellness. One of her favorites is her annual Halloween candy buyback program she started four years ago. “Trick or treating is a fun event that students should be able to enjoy, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat five pounds of candy when you come home,” she said. Carla started “buying back” candy from students. When students turn in candy — it doesn’t matter if it’s two small candy bars or a heaping bag full of Halloween goodies — they receive a healthy treat bag. Those bags include toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss as well as water bottles, apples, cheddar cheese and other healthy snacks and prizes. The candy is then donated to soldiers serving overseas.

The bag contains donated goods from local stores and companies as well as large, national companies. Carla writes to or cold calls companies that are health and wellness focused that she thinks would make a good fit. She’s been able to include cheese from Cabot Creamery, snacks from Pirate’s Booty (made in an allergy-free factory) and toys from Alex Toys. The program is so popular that she’s had to turn down donations. A local McDonald’s offered to donate Happy Meal toys, but Carla turned them down; the fast food chain wasn’t a good fit with the overall health and wellness theme of the event, she said.

In its first year, the school donated 175 pounds of candy. This past Halloween, the school donated more than 500 pounds — that’s more than one pound for every student who attends the school. Carla says that about 90 percent of the student body participates in the event.

But she doesn’t stop there. Carla also coordinates with a local dental educator who comes to the school around Halloween every year to teach dental hygiene to the students. “At the same time the kids are getting this bag full of dental supplies, she’s in the classroom teaching them how to brush their teeth,” she said.

But Carla’s favorite program is the babysitting class she helped start. The idea came when a parent asked her about local babysitting classes. Shocked she couldn’t find one, Carla decided to start one. The American Red Cross offered a course for $85, but Carla knew that was out of reach for many families in the area. She donates her time to teach CPR — she’s certified by the American Heart Association as an instructor — and approached the PTA about offering scholarships to students. After completing a one-day course, 5th-8th grade students then donate their time babysitting at school board and PTA meetings as part of the scholarship. That brought the cost down to a more manageable $45 per student.

And the free babysitting at meetings has improved attendance at these important community meetings. “It gives students the experience of babysitting while resources are just down the hall if they need them,” Carla said. “It’s been wonderful for the community as a whole because there’s increased participation in meetings.” In just four years, the program has certified 48 students as both babysitters and CPR providers.

Congratulations to Carla for being recognized as a national school nurse leader! Stay tuned for more stories from the winners of our 2015 School Nurse Leadership Award.