Healthy Students are Better Learners: Q & A with our District’s Healthy Schools Nurse

May 12, 2019

Did you know the Langley School District has its own Healthy Schools Nurse from Fraser Health? As part of Wellness Week at H.D. Stafford which runs May 13 – May 17, we speak with Tamira Burton (photo below), the Healthy Schools Nurse for the Langley School District. In this Q & A, we find out more about her role and what is being done to improve health, wellbeing, and learning for students.

What is the role of a school public health nurse?

My role is relatively new and differs from the role of the allocated School Nurse. Each school district has one ‘Healthy Schools Nurse’ from Fraser Health, like myself, dedicated to work in partnership with school districts and identified schools to promote physical, emotional and social well-being using a Comprehensive School Health approach. The School Nurse acts as a consultant for specific health questions or concerns for each school and provides immunizations and other school specific health services. In contrast, my role works further upstream with assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation of prevention strategies and supports for districts and schools depending on their health priorities. I also work closely with two identified schools in Langley, to support them to build their capacity in improving the health and wellbeing of their students.

What is one of the growing health concerns parents have for their children in Langley?

There are many health concerns parents have for their children, and as the population of Langley is growing and the demographics of the population is changing, so are the needs of youth and families. The Middle Years Development Instrument – administered by the Human Early Learning Partnership at UBC – highlights that student wellbeing amongst Grade 7 students in Langley has dropped from 40% to 36% in the last couple of years and remains lower than the BC average of 38%. The numbers are also low in terms of nutrition and sleep with the latest self-report from Grade 7 students hovering at 67%.

What are some strategies to treat, cope, and mitigate dropping rates in student wellbeing?

I work at the District level but also with two Middle Schools in Langley and the data from the Grade 7 Middle Years Development Instrument allows us to direct our efforts with strategies to mitigate these issues by assessing where the gaps might be, by creating plans to implement actions, and through coordinating efforts to close these gaps. An example would be the Wellness Week that we have planned at HD Stafford Middle School. The collaboration between myself and staff at the school is culminating in an exciting event which will see presenters and activities focusing on student wellness. There will be speakers and activities throughout the week that will bring information and education to students while also having a bit of fun in the process. BC Dairy will bring their Mobile Dairy where students will learn about biology, nutrition, digestion and view a milking demonstration and calf feeding session. Encompass Support Services will talk to students about healthy relationships and communication. Stigma Free Society will encourage students to be agents of change by learning about stigmas that cause others to be seen as different. A Dietician will speak about healthy eating. Children of the Street Society will provide students with an opportunity to learn and ask questions about healthy relationships and consent. Langley Hospice Society will talk to students about grief and loss and there will be Yoga sessions to calm the body and mind. With contests, challenges and morning announcements, we are sure to have students and staff talking about this wonderful event for some time, with the hopes that this will become an annual event.

How important is being healthy and well when it comes to learning in the classroom?

When students feel connected to their school community, they have higher levels of emotional well-being, engagement, and empowerment. Positive relationships and connectedness with peers, family and teachers are important to students so they feel school is important, that they belong, and that they can be successful. (Source: Alberta Wellness Fund). This, and other studies, highlight the importance of positive wellbeing in students – to put it simply – healthy students are better learners, and better educated individuals are healthier.

What can parents do to help ensure their kids are healthy and successful students?

Families have a major influence on their children’s achievement in school and through life. When schools, families and the community work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer and become engaged learners. (Source: Harris, A.& Goodall, J.) Parents can maintain a collaborative partnership with their children’s school and become involved in activities at schools or before and after school. This involvement communicates to the child that learning and education are important in his or her family. In providing healthy environments at home, parents are giving their children the building blocks on which they can achieve optimal success in whatever pathways they might choose.

Where can parents go to find info on student health and wellbeing?

Fraser Health has a school health website that provides lots of useful information on student health and wellbeing. You can access the website here.