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All about the data

Research supports the need for school nurses and school-based health centers

School nurses and school-based health centers each serve different roles, but they share one goal: keeping students in school and ready to learn. School nurses know that having a qualified health professional in school makes a difference in improving both student health and achievement, but more research is needed to officially make this connection. A panel held June 12 in Washington, D.C., on the impact of school-based care on student well-being reinforced the need for more research. The session was sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, the AFT, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of School Nurses

"It's the everyday interactions you have with kids as a nurse that builds the continuity of care, and then they perform better," said Thomas Stinson, a school nurse and AFT member from St. Paul, Minn. Stinson was a member of a panel titled “Gauging the Impact of School-Based Healthcare on Students’ Health, Well-Being and Educational Outcomes. Panelists discussed how two recent studies that looked at the cost and benefits of having school nurses and the collection of nurse-generated data may encourage additional research that ultimately could strengthen policies concerning school health services.

"The role we play is hard to explain, and sometimes administration doesn't see the impact of school nurses," said Stinson. "That's why research-based data is important. It shows we are valuable and a vital member of the school community. Because I am there to take care of a student, others are able to continue to do their jobs," he said. "We're there so that teachers can teach."

"It's essential for school nurses and other stakeholders to know the data about what school health can do and the outcomes you can expect from it," said Martha Bergren, a clinical associate professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Nursing. Bergren is also the lead author of a study on the feasibility of collecting school nurse data, which was sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute. "We need to mobilize our stakeholders—especially parents—and let them know what services we're providing so that when there is a risk to cuts in school nurse services, parents are involved in advocating for school health," she added.

Terri Wright, director of the Center for School, Health and Education and the Center for Public Health Policy at the American Public Health Association, agreed. "Parents and students are the best messengers for the work that you do. We must enlist them to share their experience and let them carry their own message."

The bottom line, says Wright, is that schools need a school nurse and a school-based health center—particularly in communities with high degrees of poverty and underresourced schools and communities. "It takes school-based health centers and school nurses to make a difference," Wright noted. "Together, they are at the intersection of health and education." Watch the video.

—Adrienne Coles