Highmark Foundation honors Franklin Elementary Center nurse

PARKERSBURG — A school nurse in Wood County is among the 10 Highmark Foundation winners of its fifth annual Advancing Excellence in School Nursing Awards.

Melissa Tornabene of Parkersburg, a school nurse at Franklin Elementary Center, received a Spirit of the Year award from the foundation.

The awards, which commemorate National School Nurse Day on Wednesday, were created to honor and recognize the role school nurses have in keeping children healthy. Winners receive $1,500 to use for professional development or health-related programs at their schools.

Tornabene told judges she was working as a weekend nurse at Charleston Area Medical Center and was considering returning to work full time.

“My son was starting the second grade and it felt like the right time,” she said. “Most of my experience was hospitals or home health. I had never considered becoming a school nurse, but felt called when the opportunity presented itself. When I was hired, I was surprised to learn that I was assigned to Franklin Elementary, a school very close to my home, and I have been here 13 years.”

Tornabene said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with the students at Franklin Elementary.

“I enjoy watching them grow, learn and succeed. I am proud to say that I am a part of their ‘family’ and it is my hope and mission that they feel loved and cared for while they are at school,” she said.

She plans to attend the annual conference for the National Association of School Nurses in June with her award proceeds.

The most common misperception among nurses is losing skills by becoming a school nurse, Tornabene said. However, a school nurse must develop assessment skills because most of the time she is the only medical provider in the building, she said.

“A school nurse does not have the benefit of consulting with other nurses in the moment,” Tornabene said. “Also, school nurses are typically limited to basic assessment tools such as a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, etc. And if she is lucky, an AED. School nurses also have additional credentials and continuing education that is required.”

The expanding role of school nurses is important to children’s health and safety, Highmark Foundation President Yvonne Cook said.

“The challenges facing school nurses have never been greater and these 10 extraordinary school nurses go above and beyond for the students in their care,” Cook said.

Award presentations will take place at the winners’ schools. Winners will receive a metal sculpture created by Roland Metal Art in Johnstown, Pa.

Awards were presented in three categories:

* School Nursing Practice & Leadership. Winners demonstrate leadership in school health, exhibit qualities of care and compassion or publish research.

* Spirit of the Year. Winners are role models and display a love for the school nursing profession, compassion and caring for students, staff and families, and a willingness to learn and advance the school nursing profession.

* Collaboration. Winners form partnerships with other school districts, health care providers and health systems or locate resources and assistance for students, staff and families that may otherwise not be available.