Jamie Weller is an impressive young woman. She is bright, thoughtful and filled with an infectious energy as endearing as her smile. She is a school nurse on a mission to proudly share the remarkable story of how her once failing school district is now a National Title I Distinguished School. From failing to thriving within 5 school years is practically unheard of in educational circles. When you read what Jamie has tackled, as the sole nurse in her urban school district, you will cheer her herculean efforts. She is methodical, data-driven and compassionate, a rare triple threat in school nursing. Bravo to you Jamie, our world needs more “Relentless School Nurses” with your heart, mind, and dedication to social justice and health equity. Your efforts, in conjunction with the staff and leadership of your district, is impacting the present and future of your students in ways that may not be realized for years to come. The Beverly City School District in New Jersey has found a true champion in Jamie Weller, School Nurse extraordinaire.
Jamie Weller, MSN, RN, CSN-NJ
“A few minutes into my interview for the school nurse position at the Beverly City School, I knew I was meant to work here. I encountered two administrators, Ms. Elizabeth Giacobbe and Ms. Kerri Lawler, who clearly had a passion for their jobs and the students they serve. At the time, in 2013, our Pre-kindergarten through 8th-grade school was classified by the New Jersey Department of Education as a failing school district. The district was plagued by chronic underachievement and low performance on standardized tests. These administrators discussed their efforts to ensure their students received the education they deserved. It was obvious that they also valued the role of the school nurse in reforming the district. They were not willing to settle for someone who did not share in this collective passion for the students of Beverly City. It was this mindset that made it clear to me that I had found my place.
I was offered the position as the sole nurse in the District and eagerly accepted. I immediately got to work identifying priority health service needs. As you can imagine in a failing district, the health office was also in disarray. The nurse before me organized some aspects of health services; however, there was MUCH work to be done. My first tasks focused on utilizing the nursing tools within our electronic records system and eliminating immunization non-compliance. Within a few months, student immunizations and nursing visits were documented online. In addition, we were fully compliant with immunizations. We have maintained that status on each subsequent health department audit.
Each day, I continued in the trenches doing the hard work I never knew existed while in nursing school, as a critical care nurse, or even during my school nurse certification program. I moved from one priority intervention to the next. Some of the reforms we instituted include updating the Beverly City AED program, creating a Medical Emergency Response Team, and revising emergency care plan forms for various severe medical conditions. These forms are accessible to parents on my streamlined website. In addition, we reformed food allergy and anaphylaxis practices brought oral health resources to the district, and created a comprehensive approach to asthma management in school, as our asthma prevalence is more than double the NJ average.
I also continually educate students about the importance of coming to school every day and remaining in school if they are not meeting the dismissal criteria. This open communication with students and my work to forge strong relationships with parents/guardians led to a reduction in overall health office visits and average visit duration, both of which help to maximize instructional time. This year, we also created a multidisciplinary attendance action committee, which focuses on reducing chronic absenteeism. The results have been simply astonishing. As compared to the same time period (September through March) of the 2015-2016 school year, we have almost 1,000 fewer absences!
Achievement-wise, our students have also experienced great gains. I am pleased to share that this school year, we lost our designation as an NJ DOE failing district. In fact, the DOE named us a Lighthouse District for, “illuminating the path toward academic growth and student success.” Furthermore, we were recognized as a National Title I Distinguished School. With hard work and collaboration, the Beverly City School is a significantly different place than it was just five years ago.
In sum, it is easy to undertake an idealistic view of school nursing. Weekends, holidays, and summers off (sometimes), no more aching back, shorter hours, and working with children in a community setting sounds wonderful when compared to a holiday night shift caring for a dying patient in the ICU. However, when you practice in an urban district with a poverty rate over 70%, you witness firsthand the true reality of school nursing. In addition, it leads you to consider the systemic failures of our country in providing quality public education, adequate health care, and a legitimate chance to get out of poverty. I am very grateful for the opportunity to come to work each day and serve the students and families of Beverly City. Through my experience as a school nurse in this community, I gained an even stronger commitment to achieving social justice, reducing the burden of social determinants of health, eliminating health and educational inequities, and promoting overall individual and population health.”
Bio: Jamie obtained her BSN with a minor in Health Services Management from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006. She practiced as clinical level III, CCRN-certified critical care nurse in the Cardiac Care Unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. After completing her certificate in school nursing at Rutgers University-Camden, she gained employment as the school nurse at the Beverly City School in Beverly City, New Jersey. Jamie recently completed her MSN in Nursing Education from the Duke University School of Nursing. Jamie lives with her husband and three children, ages 10, 8, and 6.