School Nursing in Small-Town California: Much More Than You Think

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Bernice Arnett, school nurse for the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District, is in charge of student health at the district’s seven public schools. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: School nursing is more than Band-Aids and ice packs. Nurses help students with complex medical conditions and tough home lives. Bernice Arnett is a nurse for seven schools in Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District — two Central Valley towns just south of Modesto. This month, our ongoing health series called Vital Signs focuses on prevention. Arnett talks about how she’s working to keep students and families in her community healthy.

By Bernice Arnett

There have been days where I have visited all seven sites in one day. But I was doing reactive nursing rather than proactive nursing. There were times that I’d have to actually triage in my head what I should go do first.

You treat the whole student. Sometimes you treat the whole family. And a lot of times, families are desperate. They don’t know where to turn.

They’re overwhelmed and sometimes it’s as simple as making a phone call and getting three bags of groceries for them for the weekend. It’s almost like they see the light of day again.

Many of our children come from single parent homes. Some come from domestic violence, and some of these little people come to school worried about their parents.

I had a little boy that just could not sit in class. It was just day in and day out he was in my office, crying. He had a stomach ache. It was this and that, and I thought, ‘Something does not feel right.’

Well, the parents had separated. Dad had made a threatening remark to the mom and the child had heard it. And so every day she made him come to school. And everyday he was in school sick — physically ill at the thought that Mom may be injured.

I contacted Mom and had to give her directions on how to file a restraining order. It took some doing to finally to get this little person to understand that he could come to school and learn again.

Sometimes it might not be under the “nursing category,” but if it needs to be done, you do it.

This story was reported by Ryder Diaz.

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  • Maureen Dugan

    “You treat the whole student. Sometimes you treat the whole family. And a lot of times, families are desperate. They don’t know where to turn.” Nursing is not just technical treatment. Nurses treat the whole patient and deal with many issues that may not seem to be the actual “problem”. The “art and science ” of nursing is complex and rewarding and cannot be delegated to a computer or robot.

  • Tracy Adams

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    • Jada

      What are you talking about?