School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Finding Flowers & Hidden Biases

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When one of my four preschools celebrated Cinco de Mayo, they held a parade to kick off the fiesta. Since all of my students were marching in the parade, of course, I joined in the fun and provided extra support as we marched 60 students around several city blocks.  I was the caboose at the very end of the parade line as we marched two by two in the neighborhood.  My partner, 4-year-old Janielys (the name is changed), seemed very excited to be marching with the nurse!

My students are primarily Hispanic, some are undocumented and 95% receive free or reduced lunch. Families are working very hard to provide the basic necessities for their children, often spending long hours away from home for very low wages. School is open from 7:00 am – 5:30 pm to accommodate working parents. The threat of deportation and separation from family looms large in this community.

Camden, New Jersey has a history of being named one of the most dangerous cities in America. The open-air drug trade invades many city blocks.  Taking students on a march through the streets to celebrate Cinco de Mayo could be seen as a daunting task, but not this day. Cultural humility was in full force for me as we started our journey around the blocks close to the school.  I was walking with a group of students and staff that call these gritty streets their homes. My unconscious biases were about to come to my full awareness and I had a life lesson to learn.

Janielys, the student who was holding my hand, happily marched through the streets, dressed in a colorful, authentic Mexican costume.  She was smiling, singing, and waving her handmade flag.  I, on the other hand, was on high alert, watching for hazards on the sidewalk, of which I found many. While I found broken glass, trash, cracked concrete, crumbling retention walls, and boarded-up houses, Janielys found flowers. We marched past a house that had a bright orange condemned sign plastered on the front door, the windows were covered with sheets of plywood but Janielys stopped to admire the purple Irises that were blooming in the full glory of a spring day.

I decided to reframe my focus from looking for trash and hazards to looking for flowers and beautiful colors. Janielys taught me that finding flowers among the trash is a much more positive way to view the world. We started naming the colors around us and found a rainbow of beauty for the rest of the walk.  My view of this gritty city softened along with my judgments. Identifying our hidden biases is not an easy or comfortable task, but as I learned, it is important and can impact our school nursing practice. Here is an interesting test to take about implicit biases:

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