HED:School nurse hopes to be involved at Joyner

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

Dianne Pittman says that she remembers filling in for Tupelo Public School District nurse Monique Wilson.

"All I was doing was putting out fires," she said. "I never got to stay at one school for more than 15 minutes."

She says Wilson's job is a busy and thankless one as she deals with emergencies at the 11 schools in the Tupelo system.

Now Pittman is staying at one school. She is the nurse at Joyner Elementary School in the Tupelo Public School District.

"I hope to be able to build up some trust with the children," Pittman said. "I hope they will come to me on a lot of things they wouldn't want to go to anyone else about."

Pittman, who is in her first year at Joyner Elementary, is one of 50 school nurses funded through a pilot program established by the 1998 session of the Mississippi Legislature at a cost of about $2.5 million. The program was established with funds from a $62 million grant the state received from the tobacco companies as part of the settlement of the lawsuit Attorney General Mike Moore filed against the cigarette makers in 1994.

The grant is supposed to be spent over a two-year period to combat and reduce teen smoking.

Other school districts in Northeast Mississippi with a nurse funded through the tobacco grant are Tishomingo, New Albany and Lafayette/Oxford.

At Joyner, Pittman said she is in the process of developing the anti-smoking curriculum. She plans to offer the curriculum through physical education classes, starting after Christmas.

Before Christmas, she hopes to have physicians and others visit the kindergarten through fourth-grade school to display and to explain to the students what smoking does to the body.

Plus, Pittman is allowed to perform all the other duties of a school nurse. She treats minor injuries and illnesses and takes appropriate action when a child is more seriously injured or sick.

"I am sort of getting my feet wet," said Pittman, who started in early November. "Joyner has never had a school nurse. It has long been needed."

Hazel Eatmon, the principal at Joyner, agrees.

"It makes a difference to have someone with (health care) experience," said Eatmon.

Eatmon said a qualified nurse can act quicker to address health care concerns than she and her secretary did under the old system. The qualified nurse also can better advise the parents on health-related matters.

Plus, the anti-smoking curriculum is needed.

"We had some fourth-graders experiment with smoking," Eatmon said.

Ellen Jones, director of tobacco policies and procedures with the state Health Department, said nurses funded through the tobacco grant are allowed freedom to develop programs appropriate for their schools.

"They (nurses) address whatever the health needs are in their school," Jones said. "All different grade levels are involved in the program. And the communities are different. They assist in whatever is needed."

Under the guidelines established by the state Department of Health, which oversees the pilot program, the nurses are supposed to serve a maximum of 750 students.

Besides the 50 nurses in the pilot program, there are about 170 other school nurses in the state. They are funded in a variety of ways. Some serve individual schools and some serve whole school districts.

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