School leaders and politicians are always talking about strategies to close the educational achievement gap. One forgotten strategy is to place a school nurse in every elementary, middle and high school.
Research studies have proven that there is economic value attributed to such a strategy.
Schools with full-time school nurses demonstrate improved attendance and lower absenteeism; higher graduation rates; higher standardized test scores; decreased use of local emergency-department services; earlier diagnosis and treatment of physical, psychosocial, academic student problems; management of chronic childhood conditions; assessment and referral of students with substance abuse, mental health issues; promotion of sex education and prevention of teen pregnancy; promotion of health and wellness programs; and a safe place for children to share confidential health information and concerns.
A recent front-page article in the Herald-Leader reported that Fayette County’s graduation rate is below the state average. While Fayette County is fortunate to have school nurses, none are based full-time in a school but share enormous responsibilities among schools, leaving little time to meet and discuss individual student needs.
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Often, school nurses are the only health-care provider that a student may see. Students cannot learn when they are not in school, and they cannot learn when they have health problems, whether physical or mental.
Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt held statewide town-hall meetings to solicit information from the public to improve the education for K-12 students. The focus was on educating the whole child, a common theme that continues to be discussed.
We attended the meeting held in Lexington and voiced our concern that a resource lacking in Kentucky was a school-based nurse. Parents, teachers and other educators supported our concern.
A child/student must be healthy in order to learn, and those with limitation factors need assessment and proper referrals for improving personal health outcomes. School nurses should be a part of every school community’s team for they can work with both the health-care team and the educational team. The school-based nurse is truly the liaison for student success.
While mandated to provide school health services, we know that prior legislation has made it possible for school districts to be inconsistent, and this inconsistency needs to be addressed statewide.
Currently, it is our understanding that only 42 percent of Kentucky public schools have a full-time nurse.
Hopefully, the education commissioner, the state Board of Education, school boards and legislators will recognize that students in our public schools have health needs that are more complex today than ever before. There is a direct correlation with time taken away from classroom learning and an additional responsibility passed on to classroom teachers that professional nurses could and should handle.
A nurse in every school is a strategy as well as a needed resource for students in Kentucky to succeed.
Lois Davis is the retired manager of School Nursing Services; Carol Komara is past president of the Kentucky Board of Nursing and a former school board member.