Full-time school nurse a rare benefit in Michigan

According to national statistics, Michigan ranks last among states in the ratio of school nurses to students. This alarming statistic raises concerns about the safety of students, says a report from the Michigan Department of Community Health and Michigan Department of Education.

In the Rochester, Michigan, school district, for example, one nurse is responsible for more than 15,000 students in 23 buildings.

Fortunately, students at The Grosse Pointe Academy have among many other benefits the services of Rosemary Barker, R.N., the school’s full-time licensed nurse since 2010. According to school records, GPA has had a nurse on staff for many years.

Most if not all school administrators would agree that students nationwide require the kind of medical attention and oversight that those at a school like the Academy get on an all-day, every-day basis.

Healthy nurse-to-student ratios ensure each child is afforded appropriate preventative, health-promotion, early identification and intervention services, the state report said. “There is a critical link between health and wellness and academic success. Improving school nurse-to-student ratios can decrease student absenteeism, increase graduation rates, and remove health-related barriers to learning.”

Barker couldn’t agree more.

“Schools need nurses, plain and simple” she said. “Other schools in the state are in serious trouble in this area. With the increase in the number of diabetics, asthmatics, and kids with food allergies, there is a critical need for more school nurses.

“Fortunately, students at GPA are getting such care,” she added.

Part of the GPA family

Barker’s tenure at GPA goes back a lot farther than when she became the full-time school nurse. She started at the Academy as a parent in 1987 (her three children attended GPA) and has had many volunteer roles there, including room mom, PCC chair/board member, and Action Auction finance chair. She started subbing as school nurse in 1996 before taking it on full-time five years ago. Barker also coached intramurals and has chaperoned many a class trip.

She says she’s always enjoyed being a part of the GPA family.

“Every year when I come back to campus in the fall, it is like coming home,” she said. “People have always been so welcoming here and take a real personal interest in each other. I also feel working at GPA is a way to give back to the school for the education my three children received here.”

Nurse and teacher

Among many favorite parts of her job, Barker, who earned her nursing degree from the University of Michigan, says she really enjoys the primary-care aspect. But, she said, it’s also the teaching part of the job that makes it all worthwhile.

“I like the fact that one day I could be teaching a new asthmatic how to use an inhaler properly, and the next day I’m teaching students with allergies the necessary resources to help them deal with food restrictions,” she said. “I also spend a lot of time teaching the kids how to read food labels and giving parents all the necessary resources they need for proper medical attention at home.”

Barker’s medical career has not always been in a school setting, though. Before hiring on full time at GPA, she was a nurse specializing in oncology, neurology and OB/GYN, and she also taught childbirth classes. A busy career, for sure.

But now she is working on slowly reducing the amount of “outside—of-school” activities in her life. Her children are grown-ups themselves now and she and her husband, David, are looking forward to being grandparents in October. She’s retired from 27 years of volunteering for the Boy Scouts and is trying to learn how to relax.

“We now enjoy getting together more often with family and friends,” she said. “And I am rediscovering this thing called weekends.”

About The Grosse Pointe Academy
The Grosse Pointe Academy is an independent, coeducational day school serving children age 2 1/2 through Grade 8. We foster an inclusive environment that respects all cultures and religious beliefs. We seek to remain faithful to our heritage as a former Academy of the Sacred Heart and to those who through their Catholic faith and perseverance sought to preserve and enhance the legacy of this past for generations. Incorporated as a non-profit institution, The Grosse Pointe Academy is directed by a Board of Trustees working together to serve the Southeastern Michigan community.