Initiatives to promote the fitness and well-being of students work best with family involvement, according to school nurses.
“Every year I have a health fair with a focus on safety, exercise and nutrition for families,” said Pam Meerdink, MSN, RN, a school nurse at the Lodi Unified School District in California.
“My motto is: Healthy Kids In Schools, A Family Affair,” Meerdink continued. “You can’t just approach the kids; you have to get the families involved. That’s been a fun thing to do.”
For the past 10 years, Meerdink has coordinated the event that attracts up to 700 attendees and 65 community agencies.
She also has started a cooking club, a walking club and a running club for students.
Last month, Meerdinkm coordinated a field trip that was for 200 students to the University of the Pacific.
The pharmacy students arrange different 15-minute sessions to teach youngsters, parents and community members about various topics such as nutrition and diabetes and heart fitness. An exercise station that is set up features break dancing to participate in.
In the afternoon, participating students can choose between activities such as golf, basketball and bowling.
“The kids are having fun,” said Meerdink, who marked her fifth year as the event coordinator.
“They make healthy trail mix. They choose where they want to go and it reinforces what they learn in the morning.”
A nurse for 40 years this August, Meerdink has been working to improve student health as a school nurse for nearly 16 years.
“I became a school nurse to keep kids healthy by eating right, exercising right and helping them to be able to make better choices,” she said.
That motivating focus is shared by Donna Beckman, BSN, RN, credentialed school nurse and coordinator of health services, special education, San Joaquin County Office of Education in Stockton, Calif.
“My whole job is to connect students and families with healthcare,” she said.
A nurse for 32 years, Beckman is celebrating her 15th year as a school nurse. She has done grant work and implemented a curriculum for pregnancy prevention and teen parenting classes.
For the past eight years, Beckman has provided care and case management to 350 special education students. That work led to her selection as a 2014 Regional GEM Award winner.
The award recognized, among other responsibilities, Beckman’s collaboration with a local dentist to conduct oral screenings for developmentally disabled kindergarten children.
“Dental care is the last thing on people’s list,” Beckman said. “Oral health is kind of the gateway to a lot of other diseases and complications and issues. There are some studies that show that one of the No. 1 causes for kids missing school is dental pain.
Part of my job is to connect kids and families to not only a medical home, but a dental home,” said Beckman, whose desire to become a nurse is rooted in her childhood.
She was 5 when her sister, Lori, was born with Down syndrome.
“I wanted to be a big sister really bad, but she never got to come home,” she said. “She was very medically fragile and I think that’s when it started.”
Now she works with students with Down syndrome and other disabilities. “I am so thrilled to be working in special education,” Beckman said.
Teaching families about nutrition and its role with academics is key, said Holly Pauls, MSN, RN, a bilingual school nurse for the Stockton Unified School District in California.
Pauls has coordinated a preschool nutrition grant for three years. It is a collaborative with University of California Cooperative Extension, UOP behavior health interns and SUSD. “We have focused on curriculum for the students, parents and a variety of community events. What I’ve had the most satisfaction with is empowering parents with knowledge about healthy food choices and the role of physical activity, and how that connects to academics and school success,” said Pauls, a nurse for 35 years.
She had a great “aha” moment during a science night at one of her schools, after she displayed a jar containing the 25 spoons of fat in a bag of hot Cheetos.
A Spanish-speaking parent who regularly attends parent meetings, “ran up to me and said, ‘Can I borrow this [jar]?’ And she took it and she went around to the cafeteria to her friends that were at other tables and said, ‘Look at what our kids are eating.’ That was such a great moment to watch this preschool mom grab this cup of fat and go, ‘Look at what our kids are eating.’ Parents teaching parents. That was great,” Pauls said.
“I am a very middle-class white lady from out of the district coming in, and it takes a lot to build trust, but when you have parents working with each other, that’s really satisfying.”