School nurse Jaime Alverson says this pandemic is showing just how dedicated public-school employees are to their students. 

“This is really an impossible task that we have given our educators,” she said. “Because I’m a nurse and the health expert in the building, I get to hear how they’re planning and what they’re doing and they’re asking my advice. Honestly, I’m just blown away by what they’re working on. It’s been eye opening just to see what teachers are willing to push through.”  

When the virus forced statewide school closures in spring and into the summer, educators and administrators have been working not only to plan for the next school year but also to provide children in need with the services our schools offer under normal circumstances. 

“They’ve worked all summer and made food and put themselves at risk to take care of kids who aren’t their family,” Alverson said. “It’s good to see humanity work, even though I wish they didn’t have to do it.” 

While she believes the current situation in Arkansas makes it unsafe for schools to reopen statewide, she does worry about her students who rely on the many services provided by public schools. 

“I don’t really want to go back to school in the midst of a pandemic, but I know which kids will be there,” she said. “I think that’s what our teachers are dealing with too. For your own personal wellbeing this does not seem like a good choice, but you know… you have kids’ faces in your head – the kids I see every single day – and I want to know that they’re ok.” 

Alverson’s 16-year nursing career includes stints in labor delivery and emergency rooms. When her children reached school age, she took a job at their school, Gibbs Magnet Elementary in Little Rock. She wanted to be on the same schedule as her children but wasn’t sure she would enjoy the new position. 

“I really thought school nursing would be a little boring,” she said. “That was very far from the truth. It is a lot of work… You run into a lot of things.” 

Even though the school has a counselor, Alverson says she does a lot of social work, connecting students with care behavior management and even staff wellness. She likes to be busy, but what she really loves about school nursing is building long-term relationships with students and their families. 

“I’m in a really little school, so I’m lucky to know our staff really well,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of turnover with our students, so I know those families over a long period of time. A lot of those kids are fifth graders and have been there since Pre-K, so I’ve known them that long. That’s been really cool.” 

She also has a deep respect for public education and says even before she joined the AEA, she was advocating for safe and healthy schools. 

I did a lot of activism work around gun safety and kids,” Alverson said. “I’ve been to the Capitol for Nurses day and AEA is always there, they always know what’s going on and who everyone is. I got to see the union work for educators before I joined.” 

That advocacy is crucial to ensure the people impacted by education policy have a voice in the process. 

“A lot of people don’t have any idea how important the decisions being made at the Capitol are, starting with even budget,” Alverson said. “When we talk about the fiscal session, a lot of people kind of tune out. That’s where we get the money to do the things we need to do for our students and our teachers and I think if no one is there to see it, it doesn’t always go our way.” 

She says some people ask her why she’s a member, because the LREA doesn’t have many nurses in its ranks. The answer is simple.  

“I’m a nurse because of the educators in my life,” she said. “If we can’t take care of public education and our teachers, we aren’t going to have a whole lot of successful people in the world in general. To me it’s really important, and I think strong unions are good for the community as a whole.” 

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