School nurse, Rainman, recognized for service

9/14/2011

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Tuesday afternoon at Alta Brown Elementary School, Valerie Rainman, school nurse, patched up a student who was bitten by fire ants on the playground. She talked to the student, treated and comforted him before sending him away with an icepack for his hand.

"Bring this back at the end of the day," she said.

Rainman has been dealing with fevers, flus, broken bones and fire ant incidents for almost 20 years. She started as a school nurse in Deerfield and has been in the USD 457 Garden City schools since 1998.

This year, she was awarded the Kansas School Nurses Organization's School Nurse of the Year Award. Each year, the organization recognizes one Kansas school nurse who demonstrates excellence and professionalism in school nursing, according to a press release from Roy Cessna, USD 457 public information officer.

Rainman was recognized at Monday night's USD 457 school board meeting, and was introduced by Polly Witt, USD 457 health services coordinator.

"Valerie has been a great asset to the district, as well as the schools," Witt said.

Rainman was recognized at the Kansas State School Nurse Conference in July in Wichita and will be recognized at the upcoming National School Nurse Conference in June in San Diego.

Rainman said she was honored to be recognized.

"I've been involved in the Kansas School Nurses Organization since 1994, and I feel like this organization is on the cutting edge of promoting children's health and helping to promote schools as healthy environments, as well as helping to show how important health is in the ability to learn," she said.

Although Rainman has dealt with her fair share of headaches, blisters and other student ailments, she is focusing on a major problem facing schools today — childhood obesity.

"So many of the illnesses that are costing our society so much, and robbing people of their lives — robbing people of their joy and ability to enjoy life — has to deal with obesity," she said.

Over the past 20 years, Rainman has seen this problem increase in children.

According to the Kansas Department of Education, the percentage of children who are overweight has more than doubled since 1980, and that percentage has more than tripled among adolescents.

To combat childhood obesity, Rainman has written grants for school activities that promote health and wellness, including health fair nights at the school and a walking program during recess.

The Dragon Trails Walking program is a non-competitive, structured activity students can participate in during recess.

"It gives children an activity who don't know what to do during recess or who don't excel in competitive sports. And they can be rewarded for their achievement," she said.

Each lap around the playground is a quarter of a mile. For every five miles a student walks, that student can receive a foot token. Students wear the foot tokens on a chain like a necklace. Student progress is kept track of on cards. When students get five foot tokens, they get a T-shirt or a backpack.

Rainman also uses health education from the Kansas Department of Education's Power Panther Pals. The program is eight weeks of education that encourage students to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to eat more low-fat foods and calcium rich foods, and to be physically active, according to the KSDE website.

Students also participate in one minute "brain breaks," where they get up and do a minute of exercising before a test, or on the hour.

"Research shows these breaks are beneficial for increasing memory and the ability to learn," Rainman said.

Health fair nights at Alta Brown Elementary encourage parents to become involved in promoting health in students.

"And we'll have some other activities planned that will include the families and children to make something that carries over from the school to the home, in thinking about healthy eating and exercise. We hope to prevent illnesses in the future, and encourage a lifestyle that will help (the students be more academically successful)," she said.

Rainman also is leading by example. Over the past few years, Rainman has adopted her own healthier lifestyle of exercising more and eating more nutritious foods. With the help of that and a membership of Project Fitness, 2514 N. John St., Rainman has dropped 70 pounds in the past three years and has kept it off.

"It's so necessary to have a community that strives for the same things together. If I'm with people who are exercising, I will too. I really believe in creating an environment that is conducive to being healthy," she said.

It's a practice Rainman is seeing more of in schools.

"We are hopeful. But when you consider how much is spent on 30 seconds of Super Bowl commercial time for soda and chips, you see these companies are willing to spend millions of dollars. Parents and school nurses cannot make million dollar commercials. We're up against media and a society that seems to be bent on 'super sizing,'" she said.

Through health and fitness programs in schools, Rainman stays optimistic.

"We're fighting the good fight right along with P.E. teachers and parents," she said.

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