When most think of children’s health care services at secondary school, they picture a school nurse sitting at an office on campus.
However, at the William S. Hart Union High School District, there’s so much more to health services than what meets the eye.
In addition to the health technicians, who perform the typical nurse duties on the more than dozen school campuses across the district, are a group of registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses, who tackle broader health concerns district-wide.
The district recently hired four RNs to bolster the team for a total of six, who include: Tina Hepp, Michelle Dizon, Jennifer Jenkins, Sarah Morris, Alison Schmidt-Denmead and Alyssa Thompson.
“We’re a supportive team, and we work and collaborate closely together,” said Schmidt-Denmead, who is also the Health Services department chair. “We’re very excited because we’re moving forward with a really full team so we can do more targeted education with our students.”
Among the new hires is a Golden Valley High School graduate who has come full circle, seeing a different perspective on school health services than she did as a student.
“There’s so much more than I could even imagine that goes on behind the scenes, especially when it comes to health services and nursing,” Thompson said. “Being a nurse on the other side of things and seeing how everyone works as a team is just so cool.”
While the decision to hire additional nurses was not necessarily a direct result of COVID-19, as the need for more support was already there, the pandemic made the hires more of a priority, according to district spokesman Dave Caldwell.
“When I started here 23 years ago, there were, for instance, 10 diabetics across the district. Now there’s over 80 — and that’s type 1 diabetics, that not just type 2,” Schmidt-Denmead said. “(The increase) could be because a lot of different factors … but we can tell you that the need for health services is essential in the schools so those students can access their education with our support.”
With the additional help, the district can step up to meet the growing health care needs of students in the community, added Tracy Glen, Health Services supervisor at the district.
A focus on students’ individual needs
District registered nurses spend their time split between two or three school campuses, primarily focusing on creating health care plans for students with medical conditions.
“We’re here to take care of the whole child and support them in accessing their education because we know that healthy children learn better,” Schmidt-Denmead said, adding that they follow those students through their time at the district, from seventh grade all the way to possibly to the age of 22 for those special education students who remain until they transfer to adult services.
It’s through creating these health care plans that the nurses really get to know the students, as they work to make sure their academic experience is as similar to other students as it can be, added Thompson.
“It’s rewarding, being able to build those close relationships with the families where they have a personal nurse that they can call and email to ask questions,” Thompson said. “And they feel supported, not waiting six months for a doctor’s appointment to ask a simple question that we can answer for them. It improves the students’ ability to go to school and do all the things that they want to do.”
Not only do the district registered nurses work to mentor the health techs, but their relationships with their students also allow them to mentor students, both on managing their medical condition as well as advocating for themselves.
“It’s essential for us to be there in that realm,” Schmidt-Denmead said. “One of the big key things that we do is to let them speak out for what they need … (which is) super important in terms of their long-term health, and teaching them to be independent for later in life.”
In fact, these nurses have a school nurse credential in addition to their other training, enabling them to work as educators.
“We are six nurses who have outstanding credentials,” Schmidt-Denmead added. “And in addition to those credentials, we are a breed that continues our education so we can be on the forefront of all technology with medicine.”
This gives nurses the opportunity to educate families on new technology and drug information that may improve students’ well-being.
“They are an amazing, super hard-working group of people,” added Glen.