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“Every day is different,” Smith said. “Some days you’re giving education to students who come into the clinic with complaints of tummy aches or sore throats or headaches. Other days you see a lot of worried, well students or kids who just want to skip class — those are the easy days.”

Then there are the days when it seems a school nurse is running a “mini-ER," handling crises that range from serious asthma attacks to dangerous diabetic high blood sugar levels or playground injuries that could involve lacerations or broken bones.

“We try to deal with the whole student,” said Hopkins. “We want to support them in staying in school by doing things such as assessing their health condition and helping them get affordable care at our health department and dental clinic, and we help young, new mothers learn how to breastfeed and arrange for child care so they can concentrate on successfully graduating from school.”

According to Smith, five school nurses serve 13 elementary schools in the county schools, with four of the nurses operating part time in three schools each. Smith is a part-time nurse in one school, while supervising the Whitfield County Schools school nurse program. In Whitfield County Schools, only elementary schools have school nurses.

School nurses administer medications and provide hearing, vision and dental screening. They conduct CPR training and educate on healthy lifestyles at health fairs and through one-on-one education with students and parents. School nurses speak individually with students about the impact of risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, tobacco and drug use, and provide referrals, as indicated. School nurses deal with lice, bed bugs and disease outbreaks.

“Because the program is conducted under public health,” said Keen, “I can look up immunization records. I just looked up one the other day for a student going off to college. I can also pick up the phone and call the nurse practitioner and express concerns about a student’s health and we can work together to provide the care that is needed.

“Many kids in Dalton Public Schools and Whitfield County Schools do not have access to health or dental care. We are their first line of health care. We can assess when the child needs medical or dental care and refer them to the health department, where they usually can be seen the same day.”

With the school nurse program under one umbrella in Whitfield County, the nurses are better able to follow through with the students so that if there are health issues that may be acute, they can keep an eye on issues like skin infections or sports-related injuries and make sure students are taking any required medications.

By maintaining relationships with students throughout the school year, especially with children who have chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or seizures, these school nurses can work with school staff on educational planning for that child.

“It is a great opportunity to be an advocate for these kids and look at them in a way that nobody else does,” Keen said. “We see the kids through different eyes, so we are an integral part of the academic team, along with teachers, social workers and counselors — and there we are, all of us working together, helping to support these children in a way that will not only help them be academically successful but successful in life.”

Keen feels it was providential that her years of working with children, adolescents and parents as a nurse practitioner and as a pediatric intensive care clinical nurse specialist, along with her education in nursing, helped prepare her to become a school nurse.

“God was preparing me for this moment and it’s made me a better school nurse,” said Keen. “I’ve had everything from research experience to intensive care training and I’ve worked with adolescents; plus, my nurse practitioner experience has helped me assess the health of children. And, of course, as the mother of teenagers, I’ve had personal experience in dealing with kids!”

Steve Bartoo, principal of Dalton High School, said, “Having a full-time school nurse is a great value for our school. Nurse Keen works tirelessly to help develop and support a culture that promotes health and wellness. Not only does nurse Keen provide a needed service, she has established great relationships with our kids and faculty. There is no doubt in my mind that having a school nurse is a tremendous asset for any school.”