By Jennifer Jimenez, SPECIAL TO INDEPENDENT
It goes without saying health plays a pivotal role in student success.
Dysart Unified School District understands the importance of keeping them in the classroom to further their educational experiences.
The district believes it has found a solution to the nursing shortage that has affected many Valley school districts.
Currently, there are 34 total people serving the health needs of the more than 24,000 students who are enrolled in the district.
This includes district lead nurse Jacqueline Hoeffler. Additionally, there are regional nurses and a registered nurse at each high school, and every elementary campus has a health services assistant.
The HSA’s include Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA), Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), Licensed Practicing Nurses (LPN) and Medical Assistants (MA).
DUSD Director of Exceptional Student Services Clark Crace said initially the district listed the job opening for health services with the certification of an LPN, but said it was difficult to find nurses to fill those positions.
“Part of the reason we expanded on the types of certification we accept is because we have a lot of kids that have medical needs every single day, including working on medicine distribution, managing diabetic car, asthmatics, food and environmental allergies,” Mr. Crace said. “This requires having a qualified health services assistant on campus everyday to help manage and ensure day-to-day care is happening.”
Currently, there is not a requirement for any certification for a school health facilitator.
However, the district is required to have a registered nurse on staff. It was important to DUSD and and its Governing Board —as well as the community — to have people with the proper certification providing care for the students.
“The board expressed the importance of keeping HSAs within a certification compliance, and that’s really how we were able to solve the staffing shortage,” Crace said. “We opened the postings up with the expanded certifications, and within two weeks we had all the positions recommended.”
Health services has changed drastically in recent years. Mr. Crace said tracking immunizations, educating families and providing an entire campus the support to deal with things like food allergies are on-going tasks. Ms. Hoeffler said she has seen a rise in asthmatics and diabetes over her last 20 years.
“We are looking at environmental factors and educate students and parents on what we can do to prevent asthma attacks and help to stop the disease from progressing,” Ms. Hoeffler said. “And I think with the diabetes we are looking at an epidemic of children who are overweight. We deal with Type 2 diabetics in schools and we are talking kindergarten to third grade. School is an opportunity for us to engage with the community to teach them about healthy eating habits and exercise and how important it is for cardiovascular health. And unfortunately when you have it you have to deal with it, and prevention is key, as well as trying to stop progression.”
For all school nurses, Mr. Crace described their focus being on educating families to help them understand how the district can help manage their students’ health.
“We really want the student to become self-aware and independent and a lot of students are aware of the signs and symptoms and when they need to seek help, as well as how to manage the health issue they are dealing with and what to eat,” Mr. Crace said. “We only have them here for so many hours and we want them to know what to do when they are not here.”
The district encourages parents to connect their school nurse with the doctor as well as themselves in order to have everyone on the same page about their student’s health. Mr. Crace said the district consults with family doctors directly, with permission and it is incredibly helpful.
If parents are concerned about vision or hearing, a request can be made to have a student checked specifically. Currently, Arizona law governs who takes the vision and hearing tests, and this includes preschool through second-, sixth- and ninth-grade students.
Dysart takes it one step further and tests all special education services, preschoolers as well as all new enrollments.
Immunizations are guided by the Arizona Department of Health Services, and all students require them, otherwise an exemption.
Interestingly, if your student is on an exemption and an outbreak were to occur on a campus, those students would miss three weeks of instruction or more depending.
Ms. Hoeffler said your child’s medication to school is easy and requires paperwork to ensure proper dosage and frequency. She suggests contacting the pharmacy to let them know you will need a separate bottle for school as they only accept medication with the original prescription label.
DUSD NURSING BREAKDOWN
- 20 elementary Health Service Assistants
- 4 high school Health Service Assistants
- 4 high school Registered Nurses
- 1 lead nurse
- 2 regional nurses
- 2 Health Service Assistants in our medically fragile program
- 1 floating nurse to support schools and training
Editor’s note: Ms. Jimenez is a Surprise Today contributor.