Education Week - March 5, 2014 - Leaders to Learn From - S46
nurses who help draft health plans
for students with chronic illnesses,
such as asthma.
The clinic, widely used by the
students there, has become a crucial
part of its host school's comprehensive
plan to help students
at risk of academic failure earn
diplomas, Principal Merrilee Lyle
"I have said more than once, if
you close the teen clinic, you might
as well shut down our school," Ms.
Ms. Newell, who conceived of the
clinic through a fellowship with
the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation, has
raised awareness about the mental-
and physical-health needs of
students in the Evergreen State
through her research and advocacy
efforts, colleagues say.
Raised in Wisconsin, Ms. Newell,
54, initially thought she would be
a teacher. When it came time to select
a path of study in college, however,
she chose nursing.
"Going through school, I had al-
ways wanted to combine the two, to
be a teacher or a nurse," she said.
Volunteer to Career
The combined interests eventually
led her into nursing education.
She earned a master's degree and
doctorate before she taught at a
community college and led professional
development at a Baptist
hospital before she found her way
into school nursing.
Ms. Newell took a sabbati-
cal from teaching when her son,
Cameron, started kindergarten.
Born at 25 weeks, he had kidney
problems and had to have his catheter
changed regularly. Because
the school didn't have a full-time
nurse to do the job, Ms. Newell did
She never returned to teaching.
Ms. Newell quickly became the
school's nurse and then the district's
nursing director, a position
that requires her to write health
plans for students that mesh with
the classroom plans of teachers.
For example, she might meet with
a mathematics teacher to coordinate
a student's insulin injection
and testing schedules.
"It is probably the most rewarding
career you could ever have,"
Ms. Newell said of nursing.
More than half the students in
the Kent district-located in a city
of about 120,000 people 19 miles
south of Seattle- qualify for free
and reduced-price lunches.
The idea for the in-school clinic
grew out of experiences that Ms.
Newell had navigating the unique
needs of individual students. Some
had unusual health conditions that
required extra help during the
school day, and some had needs
that were going unmet because of
their parents' circumstances.
For example, Ms. Newell once
grew concerned when a boy began
failing school because he was
chronically absent-missing 60
percent of school days-and he
couldn't keep up with his lessons.
During a home visit, she discovered
that the boy and his mother
both had severe asthma and lived
in an apartment that was infested
with mold and mildew.
"He stayed home so they could
share the asthma inhaler," Ms.
District leaders contacted public-
housing officials, who helped relocate
the family, and Ms. Newell
helped the student buy his own
Link to Absenteeism
Asthma, which affects about one
in five students in the district, is a
major contributor to absenteeism,
particularly for poorer students,
who may live in older dwellings
with air problems and may go longer
without a diagnosis or treatment,
Ms. Newell said.
The district's nurses meet with
classroom teachers at the beginning
of each year to discuss how
to identify and respond to lifethreatening
allergy, asthma, and seizures. Because
of Ms. Newell's leadership,
the National School Nurse Association
gave her an award for asthma
management in 2003.
School staff members have a
special insight into students'
health needs, Ms. Newell said, because
they consistently see them
at the students' most active point
in their day.
The district's nurses work to take
advantage of that perspective, she
said. At one point, following complaints
from school staff members
that a student repeatedly visited
the nurse's office unnecessarily,
a nurse listened to her lungs and
discovered undiagnosed asthma,
a condition she immediately reported
to the girl's parents.
"They're not always coming in
just to get out of math class," Ms.
Newell said. "There's usually something
underlying that's bringing
That same whole-child ap-
proach became central to conversations
about the design of a new
alternative high school that the
district planned to launch, said
"We looked at the risk factors [for
dropping out], and so many of them
were really around the social, emotional,
and physical health needs of
students," Ms. Lyle said.
"If students aren't healthy, if
they're having [post-traumatic
stress disorder], if one parent has
just killed another parent-literally,
these are cases that are in
our schools-if somebody doesn't
work with that student, and talk
to that student, and help them
keep healthy, they're not going to
be able to do high school."
A team of district administrators
charged with planning the alternative
high school listed 15 risk factors
for dropping out and decided
what programs to pursue based on
how many risk factors those programs
addressed. The Teen Health
Center, as Ms. Newell's program
came to be called, addressed 13 of
Care on Site
The school, Kent Phoenix Acad-
emy, also provides emergency food
supplies and hosts credit-recovery
and online programs.
The clinic, staffed by a part-
time nurse practitioner and a
full-time mental-health therapist,
is underwritten by a grant
from the Washington state health
department. It also accepts insurance
if students have it.
Ms. Newell devised plans for
the clinic as part of her participation
in the Robert Wood Johnson
Executive Nurse Fellows program,
a competitive, three-year
The program's leaders selected
Ms. Newell, a rare school nurse
fellow, because it was clear that
she had influence outside her
district, said program director
"We had that unique case of hav-
ing a school nurse in what we saw
as a very influential position," Ms.
Last year, about 75 percent of the
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school's 400 students used the Teen
Health Center at least once, and
about 75 percent of visitors came
more than once, Ms. Newell said.
While the clinic is primarily designated
for the alternative school's
students, it also offers limited appointments
to students from a
About seven out of 10 clinic visits
are related to chronic or ongoing
conditions-such as asthma and
diabetes, district data show.
The staff there have helped students
with suicidal thoughts come
up with safety plans, referred students
to optometrists who fit them
with their first set of glasses, and
diagnosed anxiety disorders-all
conditions that threatened to keep
them out of the classroom. Clinic
staff members also help students
make plans to discuss their health
situations with their parents,
which can be daunting for some,
Ms. Newell said.
"I think we're looking at it from
the holistic perspective," she said.
"Health is not just physical health,
it's also mental health. In order to
be successful at school, one needs
to be successful at home."
The program reduces out-of-class
time for students, even offering oncampus
prenatal care for pregnant
girls, and lessening the need for
them to travel to off-site clinics for
care, Ms. Lyle said.
"Mary is just a collaborative
leader that is insightful to the
needs of the community and its
students," the principal said. "We
talk too much about academics
only, especially with the challenges
students face." n
S46 | LEADERS TO LEARN FROM > leaders.edweek.org
EDUCATION WEEK * March 5, 2014
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