NORMAL - On any given day, a high school nurse may counsel a student worried she might be pregnant, while an elementary school nurse might check for head lice or call parents if their child is injured on the playground.
Twin City school nurses say their duties have adjusted to changes in society over the years, but they still meet the basic needs of helping children remain healthy so they can learn better.
Nurses at the high schools help students who have panic attacks, thoughts of suicide, relationship issues, possible pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
They also provide support for eating disorders, smoking cessation, bipolar disorder, depression and diabetes, said Jan Knollenberg, a registered nurse at Normal Community High School. She taught at Mennonite College of Nursing, was a nurse at Illinois Wesleyan University and made homecare visits before working for Unit 5 schools.
Elementary school nurses spend much of their time performing hearing and vision screening and will add dental screening this spring. They record immunizations and provide health care, said Nancy Schwartz, a substitute nurse in Unit 5 who has worked at almost every school in the district.
"I think a nurse's presence in grade schools is very valuable," said Catherine Miller, director of nursing education at Heartland Community College.
Like teachers, nurses act as advocates for children. At Parkside Elementary, a nurse's concern about children being too hungry to learn prompted Unit 5 to introduce a breakfast program at that school this month.
In other districts, nurses also are busy. Journalism students at Olympia High School's student newspaper, The Torch, said the nursing beat is challenging because the school nurse is hard to find.
Tina Fogal, principal of Sarah Raymond School and nursing director for District 87, recalled when a little girl injured her arm at Sarah Raymond School of Early Education, and the nurse was at her other school. But the nurse was close enough to return to Sarah Raymond and comfort the child until her parents arrived.
"There's a lot of triage and first aid in nursing," said Laura Furman, a registered nurse at Colene Hoose and Sugar Creek elementary schools. Nurses study a situation and make needed referrals, she said, but noted nurses can't do a lot of things like give aspirin for a headache.