Health Department honors school staffers for service to students


August 26, 2002|By Sue du Pont | Sue du Pont,SUN STAFF

ANNE ARUNDEL County school health staff are on the job preparing for the return of their students. For students, parents and teachers, it is an exciting, sometimes anxious time for which the health professionals are highly trained and qualified.

The county Department of Health recently recognized school nurses, aides and support staff for their outstanding achievements in serving public school students during the past school year. Nearly 300 school health service professionals gathered at Kurtz's Beach in Pasadena for the department's first-ever breakfast awards program.

Susan Comly, the school nurse at Southern Senior High School, was named School Nurse of the Year. Comly, an Edgewater resident, has worked with the department since 1995. The award came as a surprise to Comly, who was a bit embarrassed by the attention.

"All of us do so much hard work," she said. "School nursing is not just putting Band-Aids on. I'm not sure I do anything more than anyone else."

Comly's sentiment was echoed by Annapolis resident Gail McConnaughhay, who was honored as the Physically Disabled Student Aide of the Year. "I don't feel I am any more special than any of the other aides," McConnaughhay said. "It was my year, I guess."

Unlike Comly, who may work with all students over the course of the school year, McConnaughhay is assigned to one child. Last year, she worked with a pupil at Georgetown East Elementary School in Annapolis. She was with the pupil all day, every school day, helping her get around and assisting with academic instruction.

"I'm like the mom in school. It's very rewarding," she said of her five years in the school health system.

The county's Health Assistant of the Year is Beverly Blackstone, an Annapolis resident who has worked at Meade Senior High School since 1998. As a health assistant, she delivers first aid to students and helps determine what is wrong when they don't feel good. The Churchton native was surprised by the award.

"I felt blessed," she said. "I love working with high school students. They are almost adults, and together we make decisions. I couldn't do that with younger kids."

Maureen Diaczok, program manager of school health services, describes the inaugural award program as a great success.

"We decided to make some awards that would be very meaningful," she said. "We are very happy with how it worked."

The seven school health supervisors were asked to nominate members of their staff for a variety of award categories, each with clear criteria by which to evaluate the nominees. A committee evaluated the nominations, which were anonymous, and ended up with an outstanding group of recipients whose work clearly reflected high-quality school health care standards.

Diaczok said all of the school health professionals and their staff are dedicated to their work and set good examples for their colleagues and the profession as a whole. The awards are meant to recognize those doing truly outstanding work and to illustrate the qualities for which the department hopes all the staff will strive.

Comly was singled out for her mastery of child health nursing, communications skills, leadership qualities, and in particular, her work with the community.

Her supervisor, Bobbi Dunham, said, "Sue does her job with all her heart and soul out of love for the children. She makes many home visits to connect South County residents to available resources and medical assistance."

For seven years, Comly has organized a strong and increasingly successful Tobacco Free Kids Week in the school and in the community. The anti-smoking program is a priority with the Health Department and a particular challenge for Comly, whose school is in a rural area where, until recently, many families earned their living growing tobacco.

Blackstone is described by her supervisor, Janet Crooks, as an upbeat person who has established a caring and nurturing environment in the health room. She cares about her students' feelings, listens to their problems, takes care of their health needs and, on occasion, diffuses potentially explosive situations.

McConnaughhay was recognized by her supervisor, Susanne Boyle, as a reliable, prompt, pleasant and enthusiastic employee who displays affection and respect toward her assigned students.

"Gail is a true team member, always willing to do whatever is requested to meet the ever-changing needs of the school health program," Boyle said.

County Executive Janet S. Owens and Health Officer Frances B. Phillips delivered remarks at the awards program, which also recognized 80 school health employees for five years of service and 43 staff members for perfect attendance.

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