During winter mornings when students are on the SK-8 campus, the Sacred Heart teachers and staff receive an email from the Schools' Health Office about whether it's safe temperature-wise for students to have recess outside. That's just the start of Nurse Courtney Sensenbrenner's morning. Throughout a typical day, Mrs. Sensenbrenner and Marchus White, Sacred Heart's on-staff EMT (pictured left), see upwards of 100 students for treatment, medication administration, or evaluation. For example, there may be scraped knees to attend to, blood sugar levels to be tested, temperatures to be taken, or questions to be asked about how a student is feeling—which helps the medical team determine whether the student can go back to class or needs to be sent home.
Sometimes, a visit to the Health Office can be just what the "doctor" ordered—even if it's to check in because the student is feeling off that day. The cause may be physical or emotionally based, which can affect the physical health. "Whether a student has a chronic condition—such as asthma, diabetes or allergies—or not, we are there to care for students, listen, and to help them form good health habits for life," says Mrs. Sensenbrenner. To help in forming this holistic approach to health, the school's Health and Wellness Team, which includes Mrs. Sensenbrenner, the Primary, Lower and Middle School counselors, and the high school advisor, talk every week about issues that may be affecting an individual or the entire community.
The education of students about their personal health is key to Mrs. Sensenbrenner. That happens over time if a student is young, and then in Middle School, the student gets more involved. "With chronic conditions, it is a very collaborative process. The primary care physician or pediatrician provides a care plan; the parents, of course, communicate regularly with our office; and the student, depending on his or her age, can be really helpful in making us aware of what their upcoming schedule is so we can coordinate their treatment if need be. In Middle School, additionally, health and wellness education classes take place in which Mrs. Sensenbrenner collaboratively teaches with the Middle School physical education instructor and the Middle School counselor.
At the preschool, Jacqueline Simon is Sacred Heart's nurse. Because Mrs. Simon has fewer students to care for (and to-date, thankfully, no serious injuries or illnesses), she can wear several "hats" in addition to being a nurse—from attendance-taker to rest-time supervisor to the appointed designee when the Preschool Director is off campus at a meeting. She has helped to review the emergency plans for the preschool and other items that pertain to the health and safety of the students there. Also, Mrs. Simon is working with Mrs. Sensenbrenner on the launch of the SHS student health management system.
Both nurses concur that the interactions with students are the most rewarding part of the job. "It has been amazing to watch them grow physically and mentally over the short time we have had together. Their joy and ability to learn is boundless and witnessing how each of them absorbs and expresses it is the true reward for me," says Mrs. Simon. Mrs. Sensenbrenner agrees that connecting with students over time, seeing them grow, and developing therapeutic relationships with them is enormously gratifying.
Their reasons for becoming a nurse vary. Mrs. Sensenbrenner was always interested in the sciences and after college, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa, and worked in a village, participating in health promotion and disease prevention. That experience led her to The Carter Center to work on guinea worm eradication in Burkina Faso and Togo, then to volunteering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and to nursing school. She has also taught fellow nurses at DePaul University. For Mrs. Simon, she spent a good deal of time in the care of medical professionals due to an accident as a child, and her mother was a nurse. She wanted a career that would allow her to both work intermittently as a medical professional and be a stay-at-home parent.
Both women are moms, and this fact has made an immeasurable impact on their career as nurses. Jacque Simon has four adult children and 25 nieces and nephews, who spent a good deal of time at the Simon house while they were growing up. She says, "My children and marrying into a large Chicago-based family has certainly contributed to my knowledge regarding the growth and development of children in addition to a wide range of parenting styles. I am also honored that my children now ask for and trust my medical advice when needed." Courtney Sensenbrenner, who has two children under 5 years old, says that she was a nurse first but it made her a better mom and vice-versa. "They go hand-in-hand for me. As a nurse and mom, I have to be level-headed, calm, and multitask!" She concludes with a nod to her profession, "I want to help. And that's part of being a nurse."
Recently, Mrs. Sensenbrenner was able to donate, with the Head of School's permission, Sacred Heart's supply of gloves and masks to Northwestern Hospital. Both Nurse Sensenbrenner and Simon agree that staying home saves lives, and they encourage washing hands frequently and following the CDC guidelines about COVID-19.
Schools of the Sacred Heart share in the educational mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart as articulated in the Goals and Criteria. The structure supporting Sacred Heart education in Canada and the United States includes the Conference of Sacred Heart Education and the Network of Sacred Heart Schools. Together they provide services and programs to ensure vitality of mission for the member schools sponsored by the Society of the Sacred Heart.