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Kerri Patterson

Giving Her Whole Heart to Vandalia

By Lisa Cannon

“Why wouldn’t you go and work at a place that already has your whole heart?”

When Kerri Patterson was offered the job as school nurse at Vandalia High School, she knew it was her dream job. Her husband voiced what she was feeling when he said, “Why wouldn’t you go and work at a place that already has your whole heart?” Kerri and her husband both graduated from VHS, her father taught there, and they have a daughter who is a sophomore.

Nurse Kerri has only been in the new job since the beginning of 2024, and she is already well on her way to knowing every single student. She figures she probably knew about 25% of the current students through family, friends or community. But she is eager to know them all.

Kerri sees her role as being a nurse to all and a “Mom” to all who need/want it. In her job interview she said that she saw herself as a Mom first and a nurse second, and that is how she would perform. She shows true caring and concern for the students and, just as with her own kids, she wants them to feel that they can come to her with whatever is bothering them. She is very attuned to the interconnectedness of body and mind, believing that the well-being of each affects the other. This is a good time for someone to help students with mental health issues as studies have shown a rise in teens needing this support and a greater willingness of kids to seek out help. She is not a therapist, but can refer students to counseling. And often, the first step, and one that requires no license, is simply being a good listener.

Kerri and her husband married and had their first child young and several years later they had two sons who are now in 4th and 5th grade. So Kerri was busy with raising children for some time. In and around those obligations, she also developed a career in health care, working with the county health department in various capacities, including work as a doula (someone who helps and advocates for mothers before, during and after childbirth). When the opportunity arose, she decided she wanted to go to school for nursing, and she “jumped in and gave it her all.” Upon completing her degree, she was hired by the health department as an obstetrics nurse working with the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) program.

When the Vandalia school district decided there was a need for a nurse at the high school they created the position Nurse Kerri now has. It shows that the school district prioritizes student health and is willing to back that caring up with resources.

We ask Nurse Kerri what kind of impact she would like to make at VHS and on its students. She responded, “Well, one thing I told them when I interviewed was, I feel like I am a mom first. So I feel like when these kids come to me, not only am I looking at them from a nurse’s point of view, I’m looking at them from a mother’s point of view.” As intuitive and empathetic as she is, Kerri has already picked up on certain patterns and is patiently trying to work with students to understand and help. She says, “I feel like so often kids come to the nurse’s office and they’re just like, ‘I’m just kind of having a rough day’, or ‘I just kind of feel like I need to go home.”

When the same students show up frequently or at the same time each day, she tries to understand what might be happening. It is often a matter of a student feeling anxious or uncomfortable and wanting or needing to avoid those difficult feelings or the situation that provokes them. Kerri works to help students get at the root of the problem so that it can be addressed. Sometimes that means just listening, other times a referral for therapy or other services is the best solution. Her goal is to keep kids in school because ultimately they are best served by staying engaged and connected. She reflects on how important it is for everyone to have someone who builds them up and she wants to be one of those people for these students. She continues, “And no matter who’s in my office, I want to look them in the eyes and know that they’re important to me. Right. I don’t care who they are, what their background is, who their parents are, who their friends are, or what their social status is. I want them to know that they’re important to me, not just in that moment, but period.”

We can tell that Kerri Patterson is the right person at the right time to be the school nurse at Vandalia High School. She has stepped up and accepted a big challenge, and it is obvious that she has the skills, experience and emotional intelligence to make a tremendous impact on the students and the school.

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