National School Nurse Day marks 50th year of celebration
National School Nurse Day was first celebrated 50 years ago, in 1972. It is recognized alongside National Nurses Week as a way to raise awareness about the critical role nurses have in schools across the nation. At Gilbert Public Schools, nurses and health assistants work together as a dedicated team to keep our students healthy and safe. It’s an incredible responsibility, and we are so grateful that they are up for the challenge every single day. Thank you!
Jolene Costello, Oak Tree Elementary
For more than a decade, Jolene Costello has been a proud Oak Tree eagle. Nurse Costello has cared for and comforted between 600 and 700 elementary students every school year. She loves her job and school.
“I like coming to work, because it’s my second home,” Costello said.
At the end of the school year, Nurse Costello is retiring. While she calls the change “bittersweet,” she is ready for her next chapter.
“It’s been a fulfilling time,” she said.
Nurse Costello will truly be missed on campus. She leaves behind big shoes to fill and a great legacy at Oak Tree Elementary. During her 13 years at the school, she not only handled her nursing responsibilities, but she also launched an afterschool Gardeners Group for students. The program received grant money through Kohl’s and Phoenix Children’s. Nurse Costello was also actively involved in the Running Club, and this year the school had nearly 90 students participate. She’s also been a helper with the school’s Giving Tree and food pantry.
“These are things I will miss most as I retire. However, I plan on coming back to Oak Tree to volunteer and help in some capacity,” she said.
She began her nursing career working in hospitals and doctors’ offices, but eventually transitioned to school nursing for the better schedule. In all, she’s been working as a nurse for four decades. Nurse Costello really loves getting to know students and their families.
“I came to Gilbert, because I know every school has a nurse. That’s ideal, because I get to stay at my own school,” she said, “I get to connect with all of our staff and families. I like that.”
Students will come see Nurse Costello for vision and hearing screenings, injuries, illnesses, and medicine. Her colorful office filled with photos, posters, and drawings creates an inviting atmosphere for the children. She says the decorations help spark conversation and calm students’ nerves.
GPS nurses work together across campuses to address any medical issues that might arise. It’s a great opportunity for them to collaborate and support each other while seeking others’ professional expertise. Nurse Costello says her colleagues are just a phone call or email away, and they welcome the support.
“Everyone has been welcoming from the day that I came,” she said, “It’s been a very good career.”
Michele Dickinson, Greenfield Junior High School
Michele Dickinson has been working with Gilbert Public Schools for only three years, but she’s already making a significant impact on the Greenfield Junior High community. Whether it’s responding to injuries on campus or helping students cope with anxiety, Nurse Dickinson gives her all to ensure that students feel supported.
“I like to do nursing in a holistic way. I don’t like to just wash their cut and send them back to class. I always try to give them some kind of support and talk to them,” Dickinson said.
Her love of nursing stems from her caring heart and passion for health education. Nurse Dickinson spends time helping students and families learn how to take better care of their bodies.
“This was something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” she said.
Nurse Dickinson believes that some families are surprised by the work she does on a daily basis.
“A lot of people think that nurses sit in the office with nothing to do, or we just hand out band-aids and ice,” she said.
However, it’s much more than that. At the junior high level, Nurse Dickinson does vision and hearing screenings, responds to broken bones and other injuries, educates students about illnesses, monitors medications, develops care plans, and she gives students practical tools for coping with stress.
“There’s a lot more to school nursing than people think, but I actually love that,” she said.
Nurse Dickinson has partnered with the social workers on-campus to run a support group for girls at Greenfield Junior. “Her Story” provides a safe space for the girls to come and talk about their challenges with self-esteem, anxiety, stress, and other issues. The group is invitation-only and meets every two weeks.
“It’s students that we’ve identified as needing a little more help,” she said.
“Her Story” is part education and part team bonding, so the girls receive practical tools and form their own support system. The girls and staff have discussions, play games, and even do arts and crafts. The program is something that students look forward to every year. Students enjoy it so much that they make recommendations on behalf of friends and classmates who they think would be great additions to the group.
As she gets more settled into the Greenfield Junior community, Nurse Dickinson wants to continue building a rapport with students and staff, so that they can all feel comfortable coming to her in their time of need.
“The health office is always open. I’m always here to support anybody,” Dickinson said.
Jody Gilchrist, Campo Verde High School
Jody Gilchrist is a self-described “fixer.” She says the quality drove her to pursue a career in nursing, because she loves helping people. For the last 13 years, she’s been supporting the community at Campo Verde High School, where there are more than 2,000 students on campus.
“When I got here, I discovered what an amazing gem this is in community health nursing, where I can help a lot of people over time,” Gilchrist said.
A student’s high school years present a unique set of challenges compared to junior high and elementary school. Nurse Gilchrist focuses on educating and empowering her students when it comes to their own health.
“Here you only have four years, for most. We are getting them ready to go out in the real world, so what we can do as nurses is really help them be the boss of their healthcare,” she said.
Nurse Gilchrist talks to students daily about the importance of hydration, healthy eating, car safety, sun safety, getting quality sleep and some practical tools to help cope with stress and anxiety. She addresses topics like proper hygiene and the dangers of substance abuse.
As a registered nurse, she also provides students' medication and responds to injuries on campus. She is an advocate working as part of the behavioral health team and supporting students who might need extra help in the classroom. Her days are quite busy, but she does not have to go through them alone. She has the help of Rebecca “Becky” Sutton.
“At the secondary level, I don’t know how any nurse can do anything without a health assistant,” she said, “My health assistant is amazing. She is the biggest helper!”
Nurse Gilchrist feels the best part of her job is getting to interact with students. She describes Campo Verde as a “family.” She says students and staff model the motto, “Campo Cares.”
“I would have to say that it probably feels like a culture that is really embedded here. We have amazing and outstanding students that care about each other and the community,” she said.
Campo Verde is not the only place where Nurse Gilchrist is finding a community of support. She relies on help and encouragement from her nurse colleagues at other Gilbert Public Schools campuses. Together, they motivate, encourage, and assist each other in any way possible. As for the district, Nurse Gilchrist says it feels good to work for a district that values her contribution to the community.
“I just think overall that Gilbert Public Schools has made the health and safety of students a top priority, and they’ve shown that through keeping us here and appreciating us. I know that not everybody has that, and for the students, I know it’s a huge positive,” Gilchrist said.