When teachers and school nurses work together, they can create a safe, healthy environment for all students.
By Michele Faehnle
As a Catholic school nurse, I understand that it takes teamwork with teachers and parents to keep a school safe and healthy. With a rising population of children with life-threatening food allergies and complex health concerns, being aware and prepared can make all the difference in an emergency situation, especially if your school does not have a full-time nurse.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least one full-time registered nurse at each school, the reality is less than 35% of private schools provide a full- or part-time nurse due to budgetary restraints.
Even when a full- or part-time nurse is employed, there is only one nurse and hundreds of students. Most of the nurse’s time is spent in the health office with students requiring care, maintaining records and discussing health concerns with parents. As a teacher, you can be of tremendous help to the school nurse. When teachers and school nurses work together, they can create a safe, healthy environment for all students. Here are three simple ways you can help:
- Become First Aid and CPR trained. As a school nurse, one of my top priorities is planning for emergencies at school. As a teacher, you may not feel like you have the stomach for blood or knowledge to act in an emergency. However, since you are in the classroom and on the playground with the students, you will probably be the one who first discovers a serious problem. Knowing what to do will help you act quickly and decisively in an emergency situation. It is easier than ever to become trained in CPR and first Aid in our technology-driven world. Both the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association offer blended classes, including an e-learning portion online followed by a visit to a training center for skills check-off.Another option is hosting a CPR course with staff certification testing at your school. This often provides an easy way for everyone to participate. If you are already CPR certified or need to brush up on your skills, you can also download the free American Red Cross Pulsepoint app and the First Aid app for a quick reference. The first aid app covers many things you may encounter at school including life-threatening allergies, bleeding, broken bones, burns, choking, concussions, CPR, diabetic emergencies and more.
- Educate students and parents on the seriousness of food allergies. Create and reinforce policies for a safe, allergy-free environment. Knowing which students have allergies is the first step. Ask the school nurse or record keeper for a list of students and their allergies and post it in a convenient place in the classroom. Double check with parents and students to verify and complete any missing information. Oftentimes, I find health forms that are incomplete or missing vital information. A great resource is the Food Allergy Research & Education website. One program is “Be a PAL: Protect A Life™ From Food Allergies education program,” which helps children understand how to be a good friend to students with food allergies.Help create and enforce policies that create a safe environment for children with food allergies. The school nurse works with administration to create policies for safety. However, unless the teachers ensure these policies are being followed, they will not prevent emergencies. For example, our school has created policies such as birthday treats must be non-food items. In addition, food is only eaten in the cafeteria where an allergen-free table is provided for children with food allergies. Also only store-bought treats with the original label are allowed. Many parents and students underestimate the seriousness of these allergies and try to “bend the rules.” Since the nurse is not usually in the classrooms or lunchroom, teachers should firmly adhere to school policies, which are designed to prevent a serious emergency.
- Be the eyes and ears of the nurse for chronically-ill students. Research indicates that chronic illness is on the rise and already affects 15 -18% of children. Some of the most common illnesses are diabetes, asthma, sickle cell anemia, cancer, epilepsy, spina bifida and congenital heart problems. It is important for you as the teacher to be aware of early signs and symptoms of a flare-up or crisis. Since you see students on a daily basis for long periods of time, you might notice warning signs before it becomes an emergency. It is very important to communicate with the parents/guardians and the school nurse to learn about the specific disease and signs and symptoms they may experience at school that would indicate the student would need medical help.Younger students especially may not know they are getting ill, or older students may be embarrassed to admit they are having difficulty. Knowing a few simple symptoms such as constant coughing or a wheezing sound for an asthmatic child, or fatigue, extreme thirst or cold and clammy skin for a diabetic student, should signal a trip to the health office. This can prevent an emergency.
Knowledge is power and can help our students stay healthy and safe. By being prepared for an emergency and educating students on the signs and symptoms of allergy flare-ups or chronic illnesses, you can ensure a safe and healthy school.
Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Columbus, Ohio and co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.