By Jianna Beasley, Creative Director
Many students have probably experienced an off day, perhaps starting with an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that you ignore or a headache or just a random pain somewhere in the body. If it’s not too bad, you can get through your remaining classes and go home where you can hopefully sleep it off. But on the occasion where it becomes unbearable, and you can’t go home, that’s where a trip to the school nurse comes in.
“Wait, we have a school nurse?” might be the initial reaction from most students at Kennedy. Many students on campus have no idea or “didn’t know that we could even afford that,” remarked one student.
Indeed, our school does have a nurse, Nurse Tracy Starnes, who has been working as a nurse for 30 years, including the last ten years as a school nurse in our school district. After starting out at Hiram Johnson, she now works at a variety of schools ranging from K-12 in our district to college level, where she covers Cosumnes River College. She can most often be found at our school on Mondays and Fridays, but can also be seen sporadically throughout the week usually between 9am-10am. Despite her busy schedule, I was able to sit down and learn more about her and her duties as a school nurse.
Upon entering I was greeted by an incredibly kind woman who welcomed Dani Davis (12), who assisted with the interview, and myself into her office, which is located next to the counseling office, in the administration building. I asked her about her role in treating students’ illnesses and her personal experiences. She explained the procedure of what happens when a student comes in with an ailment and she gave me a rundown of the most frequent cases. “Most common thing I get is a stomach ache on a Friday afternoon, because everyone wants to go home… If the student doesn’t have a fever, I’ll give them fifteen minutes, and then send them back to class.” She did make clear that being a nurse for so long, she is able to tell when a student has a legitimate reason why they should be allowed to go home.
Sometimes students’ reasons for being sick can lead to other problems, Nurse Tracy explained, that while it may start off as having a stomach ache, it can also uncover issues of not eating because there is simply no food at home or other issues. Any of these is taken into consideration and she will find ways to help by connecting students to other services. Everything discussed with the school nurse is completely confidential, with the exception of inflicting harm upon oneself or another.
She also explained the restrictions on what she can do to help a student and the different approaches to take for different situations. While she is not legally allowed to administer any type of medication without a medical form signed by a doctor and permission from a parent or guardian, she mentioned that most nurses take a more holistic approach and rely on natural remedies like tea or salt water and things that do not require specific permissions to provide.
While the nurse is primarily on site for students, she is also able to help anyone including staff and visitors on campus who need assistance. When someone is in immediate need of the nurse, depending on the distance, a student will either be brought to the nurse, or she may come to a student in need. When the school nurse isn’t on our campus to provide immediate care, Ms. Brown, a Kennedy office tech, will also take care of students and communicate with Nurse Tracy about whatever steps to follow to care for a student.
If you’re wondering why most of us have never heard anything about having a school nurse, it may have to do with Sacramento City Unified School District not being able to afford full time nurses for every school and the ones that we do have, are spread thin.
In meeting with Nurse Tracy, we were reassured, “School nurses are very well prepared to do their jobs… but because they are so busy with work it is almost impossible for them to get out there more and do anything.” This is truly unfortunate, as having such a service more widely available to students and staff alike would greatly benefit any school.
Simply knowing our school has such a person, who is trained and dedicated to helping make our school safer and better for everyone, is comforting. Hopefully more students will take advantage of having a nurse on campus when they are in need of someone to talk to and student’s lives will be impacted positively.