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Take Action Today: School Nurses Strive to Build Positive School Climates

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In the post below, Carolyn Duff, president of the National Association of School Nurses reflects upon the unique role school-located health professionals play in bullying prevention.

Sue and Peggy work within miles of each other at W.B. Simpson Elementary School and Polytech High School, just outside of Dover, Delaware. As school nurses, they are leaders in school health and are charged with responding to the ever-evolving physical and mental health needs of students.  Today, much like their approximately 61,000 peers across the country, Sue and Peggy work with school teams promoting overall student health, well-being and a positive school climate that is safe and conducive to learning.

For Sue and Peggy, a series of student self-harm incidents within the community led to a paradigm shift in student and staff interactions, as well as response to bullying and other related challenges facing students in their schools.

The school knew it had to take action. First, they surveyed students and colleagues about bullying and other threats to well-being to set a benchmark for action. Then, they worked to develop an interdisciplinary support team of staff (including the school nurse, school resource officer, school social worker, teachers and principal) who met regularly and were committed to working with students and each other to identify at-risk students and to intervene before negative and aggressive behaviors escalated. Meanwhile, student-led efforts have helped encourage students who are bullied to seek help and have empowered bystanders to step in when a helping hand is needed.

Delaware’s state policies reflect a sincere commitment to school safety. Under Delaware law, all public schools have teams (which include administrators, staff, parents, students, and after-school staff) to develop and monitor bullying prevention efforts. The results are evident in the robust programming and critical training for students and staff — the effects of which are felt year long.

When asked how school nurses can help create an environment that is safe and welcoming for all students, both Sue and Peggy agreed on the importance of building trusting relationships and keeping the lines of communication open — not only with students — but with school staff, volunteers, families and community members.

There is important work to be done to ensure that all school nurses are properly trained and equipped to respond appropriately to bullying when it happens and to participate on school teams to prevent bullying so that students can thrive. That is why NASN recently partnered with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to host an in-depth webinar on how to move from awareness to action in bullying prevention.

Both organizations also strive to make critical resources available to the broader school nursing community, including a handy guide for Health & Safety Professionals - PDF from StopBullying.gov, as well as a School Violence policy brief and  round-up of best practices from the National Association of School Nurses. 

Bullying is a persistent public health concern that has a significant impact in our schools and communities. School nurses are often the first line of defense and a safety net for students who are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.