More than 23,000 students in Connecticut are benefiting from an enhanced role for school nurses, who are working to reduce absenteeism and promote health for students with chronic diseases.
With CDC funding for school health, the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Coordinated School Health Consultant is leading the Healthy School Communities for Successful Students (HSCSS) Partnership ProjectExternal. HSCSS focuses on creating healthy school nutrition environments, setting up comprehensive school physical activity programs, and supporting students with chronic health conditions. Four school districts are receiving tailored technical assistance, professional development, and other resources to help them develop policies and practices to make these improvements.
Eleven pilot schools with a total of 23,651 students are participating in the HSCSS Partnership Project. Most districts in Connecticut provide access to a nurse in every school. In the pilot schools, these school nurses have an expanded role, especially when providing support for students with chronic health conditions.
School nurses working in pilot schools identify, track, and refer students with chronic health conditions to keep them healthy and ready to learn. Electronic recording systems used by school nurses allow them to check absenteeism of students with chronic health conditions and collaborate with school data teams when designing interventions to improve student attendance. Currently, the school nurses collect data only for students diagnosed with asthma and diabetes. Other health conditions will be added in the future.
Connecticut education laws require all students in grades 6 through 12 to have student success plans. These student-driven plans serve as road maps to academic and career aspirations. The Department of Education has added a third component that focuses on wellness. For instance, school staff, including school nurses, may help students design fitness and nutrition goals, such as “eating right” and “60 minutes of physical activity daily.” School nurses, many of whom are on school wellness teams, also work on other nutrition and physical activity initiatives.
Districts and pilot schools have been trained to use data-driven decision making to prioritize actions. For example, a panel from the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity trained staff to use the Wellness School Assessment Tool (WellSAT),External and all HSCSS pilot schools have completed the CDC’s School Health Index to assess their school health policies and practices. On the basis of index results, they received technical assistance from the state’s Coordinated School Health Consultant to identify areas of need and create an action plan. Follow-up site visits have tracked improvements in areas of need.