Brandy Bowlen has transformed her school community by first taking a stand for her own health and well-being. This is not an easy feat for nurses. Eight years ago, when Brandy was a new school nurse, she found herself overwhelmed, overstressed and overweight. She became a warrior for self-care, connecting the importance that her professional persona would be most impactful if she presented herself as an example. Brandy shares her journey to wellness for herself and her school community. Think of her as the “Pied Piper of Health and Fitness,” with students, staff, and families joining her on a journey to wellness.
Brandy Bowlen’s story is compelling, inspiring and will leave you wanting to know more!
I have been a school nurse at Epps Island Elementary in Houston, Texas for 8 years. I remember the first year as if it were yesterday. I remember the difficulty getting organized, gaining confidence to make decisions, advocate for students, and stand my ground as the medical professional in the building. I had no idea how a school nurse could support the education system. Little did I know, but in that first year, I would uncover my true potential as a child advocate and medical professional. Here’s the story of how I evolved from an invisible first-year school nurse to a respected member of the education system.
As required by my district, I attended a NASN S.C.O.P.E. (School Nurse Childhood Obesity Prevention Education) training. The objective of this training was to prepare school nurses with the knowledge to identify risk factors and learn current information regarding BMI, hypertension, acanthosis nigricans, nutrition, and physical activity, and type 2 diabetes. I learned several things at this training. First, I worked at an elementary campus with a higher than an average number of overweight and obese students. Second, it caused me to take a closer look at myself. At 236 pounds, I was obese. How could I teach anyone about the health risks of obesity and health-promoting behavior when I, myself, was obese? Third, it forced me to look at how far I could actually expand my own nursing practice. I felt that I was completely overwhelmed and could handle no more. After some self-exploration, I decided to press the limits and apply for one of the SCOPE grants that they were offering. In the end, our school was awarded a grant, and so began our journey!
Armed with the data, the grant funds, and an idea I set out on a mission. I was going to change myself, and then attempt to make a difference in my school community. I began working hard to change my diet and exercise habits. I learned that if I walked after school, and I invited teachers, they would come! Furthermore, parents would see us and start walking too! Before you know it our walking group had 19 parents following us after school. While they walked the children played on the playground. What impact did this have on me, the staff, the parents and the students?
Our first program would span a 6-week time period with classes once a week for both parents and Pre-K students. The event culminated with a fun run and Health and Fitness Community Day. The response was overwhelming. The program was a success, and I learned that I was actually able to balance routine clinic responsibilities with managing a new program! After that year I evaluated my school communities needs even further based on the CDC’s Whole School Whole Child Whole Community model. I learned to support every aspect and promote, collaborate, and coordinate each piece in order to envelop every child in the full support of the community. I build community partnerships, initially through community day, but later through many other programs. I helped start a staff running group which is still going strong today. We will celebrate our 8th Health and Fitness Community Day on March 30th, 2019.
I have written or co-written grants which brought more than $60,000 of desperately needed funding into our school for educational activities directly tied to wellness. Of these, the most outstanding program has been the introduction of Action Based Learning! For more information on how I was able to help bring movement into the classrooms, come see my breakout session at NASN 2019 titled “From Seat to Feet”!
Brandy Bowlen received her Associates Degree in Nursing from The Lonestar College System, is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Nursing at The University of Texas at Arlington, and is certified in Action Based Learning. She is currently working as a school nurse at Epps Island Elementary in Klein Independent School District. A strong advocate for student and staff wellness, she involves her students in kinesthetic learning and empowers the entire school community to get involved. Her professional interests focus on obesity prevention and cure, and community engagement. In addition, she serves as Communications Coordinator for the Texas School Nurse Organization and is a member of the National Association of School Nurses. She was recently honored with the Salute to Nurses Outstanding Nurse award for contributions to the field of nursing in Houston, Texas.
Here is a link to a video about Action-Based Learning at Brandy’s school: