Only a month into the school year, some administrators in Columbia County elementary schools already are wondering how they ever lived without school nurses.
"It's one of those things you don't realize how worthwhile they are," North Columbia Elementary School Principal Linda Moehlman said. "You look back and think, `How did we ever do without them?' It's that kind of asset that's been added."
Prior to this year, Columbia County had two nurses to serve 24 schools on a rotating basis. With a $365,581 state grant, the school system added 12 nurses for a total of 14 - one for every elementary school. Some nurses - such as those at smaller elementary schools - also will serve middle and high schools.
In the past, schools depended on secretaries and paraprofessionals to dispense medication to pupils. Nurses have taken that responsibility at each of the schools. They also conduct screenings for vision, hearing, lice and scoliosis, and coordinate homebound visits and establish health-care plans for pupils requiring special care.
Administrators said having the nurses has freed up clerical and paraprofessional staff to concentrate on other instructional issues.
Despite early concerns about getting enough applicants, 125 people applied for the positions. The school system now has eight registered nurses and six licensed practical nurses. Vickie Gibbs, a registered nurse, was named the system's lead nurse.
Mrs. Gibbs - assigned to Stevens Creek Elementary - said working in the schools as opposed to local hospitals allows her more time with her family, an appealing feature to the position.
And, she said, working with children is a plus.
"That has been great. I know each of us, we've discovered it's our ministry. We put our arm around them even if it's just a stomach ache."
Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle said the school nurses are becoming familiar with school system policies and procedures andare making suggestions for positive changes.
"It's been real good," Mr. Nagle said. "I think the biggest problem we've had in some situations is just finding somewhere to put the nurse. Some of the schools just do not have the facilities."
Martinez Elementary is such a school. For the time being, school nurse Sheryl Werrick has a desk in the school's front foyer near the main office. Ms. Werrick said she has been well-received by school staff and parents. Even pupils, she said, have been curious about why she is there and have responded to the "newness" of having a school nurse full time.
"I've handed out a lot of band-aides and have had a lot of stomach aches," the nurse said.
Martinez Principal Lauren Williams said she is glad to have a full-time nurse at her school and is working on creating more personal space for her.
"It has certainly helped as far as medication and some of the decisions that educators in the past had to make about health issues," Dr. Williams said. "We now feel like we can concentrate more on education."
Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112.