At the onset of the pandemic, officials in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 did something that turned out to be a great use of money: They hired a full-time registered nurse for all nine of our schools. Larger schools like mine—a middle school with 1,100 students—also have a certified nurse assistant.
Before COVID-19, a nurse supported our school, Fountain Middle School, along with three elementary schools, which together serve about 3,000 students. With her on site every day now, we can be really targeted in our approach to managing the pandemic. One of the biggest advantages is that she can perform onsite rapid COVID testing not only for students, but also for staff and families. And the result has been that our students have missed a lot fewer days of in-person school by having to quarantine at home.
Some of our sister school districts that don’t have access to widespread rapid tests have mask mandates, and they impose a seven-day quarantine for anyone who has been in close contact with someone who tests positive. Since our district has hired the nurses and funded the expanded rapid testing, we have had only one positive test result from among the hundreds of students who have been exposed to a positive case.
Such testing has also improved our communication with the community on pandemic-related issues. Some questioned why we were not requiring masks when students in schools on the nearby Fort Carson military base must wear them. Now we’re able to share how we use the data—and science–to make important decisions, and people in the community have really appreciated that.
The federal Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSR) has made it financially easier to hire the nurses and fund other COVID-related needs. But district officials have committed to making sure we can keep the nurses and nurse assistants in our buildings even without the federal funds. And I’m looking forward to expanding how these health professionals can serve our students and our community when COVID is no longer the dominant health issue.
For instance, they could play a more proactive role when it comes to things like supporting student attendance and meeting the needs of students in special education. A lot of times, student attendance issues are connected to student health needs that we might not fully understand or to families struggling with mental or physical health needs.
We also serve a large population of students with special needs, many of whom have significant health issues. Having a registered nurse in our building has been very reassuring and critical at times, especially when we are in contact with emergency services for students who might be immobile, or who use a feeding device, or who are having a seizure. It’s another way to ensure that our students are always in an environment where they’re safe and cared for appropriately.
The nurses bring value to our school community in so many ways. Our nurse is a valued member of our staff, just like everybody else. She’s invited to everything we do at school. She attends events during and after school to say hello to students, and she’s no different from any other staff member. To my knowledge, none of the nurses hired in the wake of the pandemic has left.