We like to think of school as a “home away from home,” especially given the amount of time our kids spend at school. We feel good knowing that our children are in the hands of a caring team of individuals who look after their mental and physical well-being during the school day. The school nurse is an integral part of this team.
Lynne Hall has been a school nurse at RSU 13, formerly SAD 5, since 1994.
Originally from the Boston area, Hall moved to Maine after nursing school. She became a nurse practitioner and worked in family practice with Dr. Judith Anderson for a number of years. Caring for people of all ages, with multiple health problems, really helped Hall to hone her skills as a medical professional.
When her two boys were young, Hall wanted a job that gave her more time to be with them. A school nurse position at SAD 5 became available and she went for it. Hall has not looked back.
Currently, she calls South Elementary School and Rockland District Middle School her home. In the fall, she will move to the three schools in Thomaston, often referred to as the “west side” of RSU 13.
Hall loves school nursing. As I visited with her at the South School office, a number of adorable little cherubs paraded through for various reasons. It was obvious to me that these children felt safe and nurtured by Mrs. Hall.
My visit was primarily aimed at talking to Nurse Hall about what she has seen as an alarming trend over the past 15 years. Hall has been tracking the height, weight and BMI (body mass index) of children in her district throughout elementary school. For those not familiar with BMI, it is a screening tool commonly used to identify possible weight problems in children. BMI is based on height and weight, and is age- and gender-specific.
Hall has found that, every year, the number of children who are considered overweight and even obese has been increasing. This is, unfortunately, a nationwide trend. When it happens in our own backyard it seems that much more alarming.
Among seventh graders this year, Hall found that 62 percent of the kids were in the ideal weight range. That leaves 38 percent of kids as overweight. Of this number, 26 percent were in a BMI category that makes them at risk for developing some of the health problems associated with being very overweight, such as diabetes, joint problems and eventual heart disease. More and more children are being diagnosed with what was once called “adult-onset diabetes.” Self-esteem can also be affected when a child has to deal with being overweight.
When I asked Hall what she has observed that has made these numbers rise over the years, she replied: “There are a number of factors that contribute to this. Kids are not playing outside after school as much. Many kids actually spend hours watching TV, visiting Facebook or playing video games. We use food as a reward too often, both in school and at home, and, in general, portion sizes are too big. We need to remember that younger children do not need to eat as much as their parents and older siblings. Many families have even gotten away from eating a home-cooked evening meal together. Finally, some children bring four or five snacks with them to school when a nice crunchy apple would be enough.”
These are just of few of the unhealthy trends that have gotten us, as a society, into our current predicament.
Nurse Hall and other local school nurses, teachers and health professionals are working hard to reverse this trend. Schools are starting to work on health policies that include more physical education and more physical activity, even during classroom time. The RSU 13 food service director, Charles Butler, has done many things to improve the quality of the school meals in the district.
Hall is making more classroom visits to teach about health and good nutrition. She uses tools such as the “5-2-1-0” message, developed by the “Let’s Go” program. It stands for: 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, 2 or fewer hours of screen time, 1 or more hours of physical activity, 0 sweetened beverages, every day.
Just as important as teaching healthy habits, Lynne Hall “walks the walk.”
“You won’t find me in a McDonald’s,” she said. For fun she likes to walk, bike, Zumba dance and hula-hoop, and she is an avid gardener.
When asked what she likes best about her job, Hall replied: “I love kids!” It is just that simple.