School nurses: They’re healers, listeners, second moms

(Palm Beach Post) School nurses spend much of their day talking hormone-fueled, angst-filled students off the proverbial roof.

Sometimes they treat kids who have literally fallen through the roof.

That happened to Tambre Davis, school nurse at Royal Palm Beach High School. “A boy was fooling around, and he fell through the rafters.”

School nurses handle the usual menstrual cramps, scraped knees and peanut allergies.

But today, more than ever, they see children with adult health problems: Panic attacks, diabetes, gall-bladder issues, high cholesterol, pregnancies, drug issues and suicidal urges.

They see kids with few trusted grownups to talk to, especially about the things that make their stomachs ache – things like bullies and boyfriends and the mean girls who won’t stop text-taunting them.

Davis, a former ER nurse, has been helping students for 15 years, ever since the Quantum Foundation and the county Health Care District formed a partnership, and Quantum offered a $500,000 challenge grant to jump-start a countywide school-nurse program. They ended up with a fulltime nurse in every school and one of the top programs in the state.

“These school nurses are essential,” says Stephen C. Moore, chairman of the Quantum Foundation board. “They are the first line of defense for these children.”

It’s not easy to defend kids from 24/7 texting torment or new threats like synthetic marijuana. Or the emotional pain that comes from growing up.

“We have the opportunity to mold these children,” Davis says, “to let them know that any health issue they might have is not a disability. We teach them how to live.”

One thing she teaches: That a portion size of food is about the size of your hand. That’s easy for kids to understand. And obesity is a tremendous health problem in schools.

One thing her colleague, Joyce Tucci of Lantana Middle School does: She gives a silk rose to her girls when they start their periods. “To welcome them to womanhood,” she says. And let them know womanhood is a good thing, a powerful thing, and they have an understanding woman – the school nurse – who can help them.

“They will come see me and sit down and just pour their hearts out,” Tucci says. “They tell us things they don’t tell anyone else. And then they tell their friends that the nurse’s office is a safe place to come.”

Kids have so much pressure today, these nurses say.

Students will come into Davis’ office so overwrought with emotion, they don’t know what to do. Sometimes the most healing thing she does is listen.

“They come in with a stomachache, and we talk to them until we find out the cause,” Davis says.

It could be dating problems, gender problems, problems at home.

Pamela Goldberg is the nurse at South Tech Academy, so she tends to her share of cooking and wood-shop injuries.

She, too, says much of the healing she provides is from the inside out.

“Listening and validating,” she says. “Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to feel they’re important.”

Anne Hedges, who directs the program for the Health Care District, says the nurses treat the “whole child” – physical, social, psychological and emotional.

“That’s why we ask, ‘What’s troubling you today? What’s happening in class today?’ You don’t always get the whole answer in one visit.”

They play so many roles – from trauma nurses to second moms – it’s hard to imagine what would happen if they weren’t there.

“Some of these children,” says Linda Ventry, nurse at Northboro Elementary School, “don’t have anyone else to listen.”