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The Nurse Is In

Amy Roelse knelt on the floor, eye-level with a second-grader whose thumb wouldn’t stop gushing blood. The student had slammed her digit in a doorframe, and the look on her face told all: fear at first, and suddenly, trust.

Nurse Amy squeezed the wound and soon after — bleeding stopped and bandage in place — the student was back to class.

In the meantime, two other students had entered the nurse’s office at Sparta’s Ridgeview Elementary for daily snacks to maintain blood sugar levels for diabetes. Sixteen students in the district have the disease, Roelse said.

After the office had cleared, yet another youngster rushed in and set up his daily shot of insulin. One more had his blood sugar level tested via finger prick. A third took medication. Then there was a bloody nose.

“I always say ‘I think I could use four of me,’ ” Roelse said. “I seriously think I could stay busy in every building all day, every day.”

Roelse is a registered nurse and former pediatric nurse who has spent the last 15 years — 14 of those in Sparta — racing from building to building to administer the cure when students take a bump on the forehead or a scrape to the elbow, or need their daily regimen of sugar-stabilizing snacks.

A diabetic Ridgeview student receives a shot of insulin
A diabetic Ridgeview student receives a shot of insulin

Health Talk

On his way to the nurse’s office, one student was overheard by a secretary saying he was going to “take my drugs.” Roelse made sure to teach him the correct language. “This is medicine, sweetheart,” she said. “You take medicine.”

“I take every opportunity I can to teach the kids about diet, and nutrition, and exercise and fitness, and making good choices in life and taking care of themselves,” she said. “Whatever’s age-appropriate, I’m talking about it with the kids.”

In between patients and logging their visits in the computer, Roelse texted parents of diabetic students updates to their children’s blood sugar levels.

“If you see me on my cellphone, it’s not personal,” she said.

Nurse Amy by her car, which she drives from building to building throughout the school day
Nurse Amy by her car, which she drives from building to building throughout the school day

Next, she gathered up her supplies and rushed out of the office with a wave to the building secretaries, who in her absence are the wound treaters and temperature takers. All district office staff is CPR- and first aid-certified by Roelse.

She fast-walked her way to the parking lot and safely navigated to the next stop on her lunchtime rounds: Appleview Elementary. When she arrived, six students were waiting.

One, an English-language learner, fell from playground equipment and hurt his elbow. With the help of teaching assistant Shannon Gonzalez’s translation, Nurse Amy assured the boy nothing was broken, but called his parents to let them know what had happened.

“I’m not an alarmist,” Roelse said. “I’m not that way as a mom with my own children, and I treat these kids like I do my own.”

Most of her attention goes to elementary students, she said, especially those with diabetes and students with special needs. She also helps identify signs of attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In the upper levels, anxiety and depression are more common, she said, and she works closely with counseling staff to address mental and physical health problems.

“The older the kids get, the less they seem to need me, but if they do it’s big stuff,” she said.

Roelse’s parking space at Appleview Elementary
Roelse’s parking space at Appleview Elementary

There are medical centers in Sparta, but the nearest hospital is out of town, and Roelse’s job doesn’t end when she goes home. She said she gets calls at home for after-school incidents. She has been known to check staff members’ blood pressure. She offers a professional opinion for families before they rush to a hospital visit. Roelse said the extra work she does outside of school isn’t a burden — it’s the heart of her job.

“I love that,” she said. “I love that I can provide that for them. I am that first person outside the home that they can use. I’m so glad that I’m here for parents.”

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Sparta Nurse Information

Sparta was recently named an MI HEARTSafe School

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