West Central School nurses cherish ‘adventure’ of each day

School nurses Sarah Eads and Debbie Charles in the West Central clinic.
Sarah Eads, left, and veteran school nurse Debbie Charles strive to meet the wide-ranging needs of West Central students and families.

During the earlier months of the pandemic, West Central School nurse Debbie Charles sought to reassure students by holding a smiling photograph in front of her masked face. She wanted them to know it was still her, still the same Nurse Debbie who’s provided decades of loving care.
“She knows the science of nursing, and she also knows it’s more than that,” said Charles’ colleague at West Central, school nurse Sarah Eads. “There is an art. Debbie is my mentor, and she’s a wonderful one.”
For families whose children have serious developmental disabilities and medical needs, nurses are crucial to school success. Charles and Eads regularly tend to feeding tubes and breathing treatments, administer medications, and respond to seizures, behavioral concerns or illness.
“Every day is an adventure,” Charles said. “COVID has been another challenge. But even with all that, we want our students to be able to be here. Our kids don’t learn virtually. And no one wants to live in a bubble.”
Charles and Eads, who recently joined West Central as a full-time registered nurse, tag team the daily demands. For more than 18 months, Charles also has monitored a staggering amount of COVID-related information from county, state and federal health agencies, including contact tracing.
“Debbie has stepped way beyond the role of school nurse,” said West Central Principal Maryalice Turner. “It’s extraordinary what she and Sarah do. Parents should feel very secure with them here.”
Though at one time all Ohio county boards had schools, the number has dropped to a little less than half, and school programs aren’t as large as they once were. But their nurses are as laser-focused as ever.
“These nurses have to be vested in all of the kids and know their backgrounds and needs,” said Bev Smith, a former educator who serves as a consultant with the Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities. “When I worked for a county board, our nurse was our north star.”
Charles’ late son had a developmental disability; Eads lost a child with a disability during infancy. They understand the anxiety families sometimes feel when sending children with intensive needs, and limited communication ability, off to school for the day.
“Our assessment skills must be very acute,” Eads said. Coordination among teachers, therapists and other service providers also is key.
Over the years, Charles has known several students who passed away, which of course is devastating. She considers each one a part of her family. “It’s hard,” she said. “But it’s also a reminder of how much you love these kids.”