As health director at Aurora R-VIII School District, Gail Smith is challenging everything from childhood obesity to a lack of good clothing for underprivileged students.
“A good school nurse needs to have a working knowledge of resources available in the community for the students and their families,” Smith says.
After an annual student health screening required by the state, Smith discovered that Aurora students were at greater risks for childhood obesity than other students in the Ozarks. Data from Cardiac Kids, a program provided by Cox Monett, indicated students were also at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
In response, Smith developed a nutritional committee this year consisting of herself, the district’s director of food services, the high school principal and dietary supervisor, and four high school students.
While the committee follows the state’s Eat Smart Guidelines as well as the federal nutrition standards in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program, the additional needs of Aurora students were addressed concerning the cafeteria menu. Fatty foods were removed from vending machines, and new options were added in the cafeteria.
“The students really enjoyed and purchased the salad bar, the deli sandwiches and the yogurt parfaits. With eating these healthy items, the consumption of hamburgers, baked fries and pizza decreased,” Smith says.
For the 2012–13 school year, Aurora schools and CoxHealth – the district’s insurance provider, and Smith’s former employer – are rolling out a wellness program for employees. Teachers and staff can participate in health risk assessments and personal wellness profiles.
Smith takes on a dual role as a health practitioner as well as a sort of case manager, connecting resources with students in need. After recognizing needs for new clothes and shoes for students, Smith began a project called Just Ask, standing for Aurora School Kids, to offer a free on-site clothing store.
The Just Ask inventory comprises clothing donations from the community, and new shoes were purchased out of the health services budget. Roughly $5,000 of clothing and cash has been donated to Just Ask, Smith says. “We have a classroom that is filled with clothing,” she adds, “enough for about 100 students at any time.”
Smith says the most important role of a school nurse is to be a good listener. For instance, blisters on feet may indicate a need for new shoes, and stomachaches may be caused by underlying stress.
“I believe it is the role of the nurse to help identify the real problem,” Smith says.Click here for full coverage of the 2012 Salute to Health Care.