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The Many Faces of Nurse Kleeman

Showmanship and Medicine Mix Well for One School Nurse

By Dave Arnold,

If a student were to tell you that you look strange you might reprimand that student, or at least ask them why they feel that way.

School nurse Lisa Kleeman would quickly thank the student for the compliment. You see, she works hard to look strange, like when she puts on a costume of her own design that resembles a giant six-legged insect.

Over the years, I have met many fascinating teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) while attending National Education Association (NEA) conferences. But I have never met a school nurse that has more fun doing her job than Lisa Kleeman.

Insect High Fashion

While talking with students about the importance of personal hygiene, like preventing the spread of head lice, Lisa dresses up as one of those tiny insects that live in the scalp. She made the costume and created the stage name, “Head Louse.”

“It is a challenge to be a school nurse,” says Kleeman, a member of the Carlinville Education Association in Illinois. “Your day can entail a little bit of being in an emergency room, giving referrals at the department of children and family services, counseling, all while you are trying to maintain meds, treatments, schedules, and records.”

So, dressing up as a bug helps breaks the monotony, I guess. Kleeman says she gets some strange looks from adults as she makes the rounds between her three schools in the Carlinville Public School District. She admits that it’s tough handling the steering wheel with six legs.

A Personal Touch

To reach students, Lisa also dresses up as Theo Flu Bug, Twelve Year Molar, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis, and Ice Pack. When she dresses as Lungs, she says she can better illustrate the difference between a clean, healthy lung and one that has been ravaged by tobacco.

Kleeman isn’t always “on.”  She sometimes wears a white smock, or civilian clothes like any other ESP.  If the costumes aren’t enough to catch the interest of students, the hand-painted murals in her nurse’s station might help calm their fears. The walls are currently decorated in the theme of a tropical rain forest. This decorating scheme helps take her student’s imaginations to another place, a place away from their poverty. Many of the students in the area live in low-income households.

“My biggest challenge can be working with families who live under poverty conditions, and have to deal with mental health issues, single-parent struggles,” she says. “It never gets boring as things can change so fast.”

Nursing is Her Calling

Like many others, Lisa decided to be a school nurse after working as a fulltime nurse at a hospital. Her school schedule allows her to spend more time with her family. However, she will tell you that being a school nurse is more of a calling. Her dedication is one reason she received the Outstanding Education Support Professional Award from Region 5 of the Illinois Education Association (IEA).

“It is important to have school nurses,” says Kleeman, a member of the Illinois Association of School Nurses. “So many illnesses you find at school need someone who is trained to monitor and direct care. Nowadays, there seems to be more needs than when I first started.”

Humor and costumes aside, Kleeman is nationally certified in school nursing. She hopes to complete her master’s degree in the same field. By all accounts, she already has a master’s in entertainment.

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(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at darnoldjanitor@yahoo.com.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. But most Association members know him best from the editorials -- Dave's View --