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    School Nurse at Orca K-8 Bridges Connections with Families
    Posted on 03/13/2019
    Alem Beyene smiles for a photo in a school office

    School Nurse at Orca K-8 Bridges Connections with Families

    The hallways at Orca K-8 School are quiet, but around the corner, the nurse’s office is bustling with noise and activity. “We’re always busy,” says Alem Beyene LPN, one of two nurses at the school. Melanie Vance BSN RN also serves the school with Beyene, and both women are constantly on their feet all throughout the day.

    Beyene joined the district last November, and though her tenure has been brief, she has made a significant impact in the lives of students and families – especially those that speak Amharic and Tigrinya. Hiring school staff (teachers, counselors, school leaders, and nurses) that are reflective of our diverse school district in culture, class, language, and ethnicity among others is one of the district’s strategies in eliminating the opportunity gap.

    When she talks about her job, she breaks into a bright smile as she recalls the students she interacts with daily. “I’m here for all the kids, and I love being around them. Every day there is something, every day there is a story,” she says. It’s easy to understand why families and students gravitate towards her wide smile, warm laugh, and comforting voice.

    For families that speak Amharic and Tigrinya, Beyene has been a vital source of support. “The rewarding moment has been helping the kids, the diverse student population, and Ethiopian students. I find that families are so happy to talk to me that they tell me their life story, as they are free to communicate with me. One mom tells me stories from when her kids were babies, and she’ll tell me what the family did during Christmas. One day, she came to pick up her kids and came over to hug me,” she says.

    For many families, navigating school systems can be challenging, and calls from the nurse’s office can be overwhelming. Beyene agrees, “It’s hard to understand medical terms, but it’s easier when they hear it in our own language.”

    Beyene said one student bumped her hand on the wall, and she had to call home. “I spoke to the mom in Amharic and said she needed to take her daughter to the clinic because the daughter might have a fracture. Another student came in last week, and he had a fever. He asked me to call his mom and speak to her in Amharic. I now speak to him in Amharic too.”

    She frequently has students coming up to her with a special request once they discover Beyene speaks their language. “They tell me their moms speak Amharic, so they want me to call just to leave a message,” she says with a laugh.

    She hopes students of color will see her as a role model. “When they look at me, I would like them to see that they also can be like me.”

    Samara Hoag MN RN, health services manager is pleased to have a more racially and culturally diverse group of nursing staff this year. “Our district has many Ethiopian families, and it gives me great pride that our nursing staff can reflect the racial diversity of our school population,” Hoag says.

    Thanks to Seattle voters approving the renewal of the Educational Programs and Operations Levy (EP&O) in February 2019, the district hopes to expand the number of nurses that reflect the diversity of our school communities. For some families at Orca K-8, Beyene’s presence alone has made them feel more welcome, as she helps them to navigate an unfamiliar system to feel connected and most importantly, heard.