A fresh tear was still caught in his eyelash when he came to knock on the nurse’s door. Rubbing the back of his head with one hand and gripping his laminated clinic pass with the other, the Shelton Park elementary schooler could barely muster the words to describe his fall in P.E. class.
I, uh, fwell and, uh, my head hit the waw.
-Your head hit the wall?
No, the gym waw.
-The gym’s wall?
He sniffled quietly. His eyelash released its hold on that last remaining tear, which slowly made its way down his cheek.
Nurse Sharlene Stovall stepped closer.
She listened for a few moments, gently checking the back of her patient’s head and asking more clarifying questions. It never did become clear what the “waw” was, but he confirmed he did not fall that hard and he could see, hear and talk just fine.
Why don’t we get some ice for your head and lay down for a minute, Stovall suggests.
Her patient happily agrees and waits as Stovall heads to her giant ice machine to make a special ice bag just for him. He takes his bag and lies down on one of the school’s three padded cots.
“My cots are magic,” Stovall says with a sly smile. “They lay on them for five minutes, and, then, they’re fine.”
Stovall barely sat down when another knock is at her door. A would-be ballerina twirled one too many times on the playground. She landed wrong and now her ankle was hurting.
More questions, more assessing and one more patient is getting iced down on the clinic cot.
“People say that all the nurse will do is give you ice,” Stovall said.
“We really do give a lot of ice.”
She set schedules for medications and treatments.
She gives inhalers before PE.
She handles allergy reactions.
Some of her students require daily tube feedings, others need catheterization.
And, then, there are the day-to-day bumps and bruises that come from PE or recess.
“School nurses play a large role in keeping kids healthy and in school,” she said. “We’re a valuable resource in the building. We support academic success by keeping them here.”
There is a registered nurse in every school building here in Virginia Beach, which Stovall credits the city and School Board for making possible.
“In the country, as a whole, you don’t find that,” she said. “(Other districts) are looking at positions they can get rid of, and I think they’re making mistakes taking nurses out…We’re highly skilled professionals and we’ve been doing this a long time. We support the teachers and remove barriers so (children) are able to learn.”
Stovall has been a nurse at Shelton Park for 12 years, but this is her 29th year as a registered nurse. Her first seven years as a nurse, she worked in the post-surgery wing at Sentara Lee. Then, she spent a decade working in home healthcare. For Stovall, serving as a school nurse has the same foundation.
“Nursing is nursing wherever you go,” she said. “You have to be compassionate and caring. I just try to be a kind voice.”
That kind voice has resonated with many of Stovall’s colleagues and students. She was named the 2015 Virginia PTA Nurse of the Year as well as the division’s nurse of the year.
“Mrs. Stovall does more than be a nurse to the staff and students at Shelton Elementary School, she is their friend. She takes care of families that move into the area and need help,” Shelton Park’s PTA wrote in their nomination about Stovall. “With a large amount of military families in the area, she often helps those families connect with new families and community needs in the area. She takes the time to learn every child’s name in the school which is a true personal endeavor for her but more importantly can help keep the students and staff safe by knowing names, allergies, concerns, and so much more. As one of her students said, ‘We hope Mrs. Stovall is always our nurse. We can always count on her.'”
Because of her state PTA honor, Stovall was given a grant – worth more than $2,000 – to bring in depth vision checks for her students-in need at Shelton Park, which was one of the greatest perks of the honor: being able to help her kids.
“I just love working with children,” she said. “This is what I do and why I do it. Who else gets to come to work and see all these smiling faces?”