Forty-mile school bus ride and MC nursing degree provide foundation for Texas School Nurse of the Year

By Nancy Brown


Juanita ValdezThey had no television, no phone and no newspaper. Juanita Valdez does not share this news of her childhood home with regret, as she and her nine siblings were happy growing up on "The Oasis," a ranch in West Texas, between Dryden and Sheffield. The upside to their situation: school was everything. "We wanted to go to school. That's where our social life was," Ms. Valdez said. They didn't even mind the 40-mile bus ride it took to get them there.


And, thanks to the little van from Sanderson, they grew up loving books. A mobile library, manned by a kindly, request-taking librarian came through their hamlet every couple of weeks, happy to loan them books. "We were ecstatic when that van came through," Juanita said. "We read religiously, and anxiously awaited the arrival of our next selections."


The influence of school and its attendant benefits—social, intellectual and otherwise—have had a lasting effect on Juanita Valdez. Her hard work just resulted in the honor of becoming Texas School Nurse of the Year!


Juanita graduated from MC's Associate Degree Nursing program in 1994—a program she called "very intensive and competitive, with very competent and qualified instructors." She worked for two years in the Maternal Child Division at Midland Memorial Hospital, then landed the coveted position of school nurse with the Midland Independent School District. (During school, she also had done some summer internships with the Health Department and came to appreciate the importance of public health.)


She is the Head Start Health & Nutrition Coordinator for MISD, overseeing the two early childhood centers and supervising two licensed vocational nurses, one at Bunche Early Childhood Center, the other at West Early Childhood Center. "Having a nurse on each campus plays a big role in the students' academic success," Juanita said. "A healthy child is a better learner." A large part of her job is wellness education for parents and staff. Since the centers are funded by Head Start federal funds, the primary eligibility factor for entering students is that they are living at or below the poverty level. "The statistics show that these kids have more health needs, and we are able to provide them with services they might not get," Juanita said. "One of our main goals is to get the parents connected with a dental and medical home so they are not using the emergency room as their primary provider."

Juanita was nominated for the Texas School Nurse award by staff members at Region 18 Education Service Center. To complete her eligibility for the award she had to complete an exhaustive portfolio, giving examples of how she met the "Standards of School Nursing," which includes "Collaboration" and "Health Education and Wellness Promotion." Her work in what she describes as a "helping profession" earned her the nomination at the regional level, but she won at the state level, for which many other nurses across Texas were also nominated. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be selected at the state level!" Juanita said. "This is such an extraordinary honor."


Juanita is continuing her education even now, working towards her B.S.N. (Bachelor's of Science in Nursing) pursuing opportunities her parent's had hoped for their ten children. "Even though they did not go beyond fourth grade, they worked very hard for us so we could have access to higher education. They pushed us to make good grades and wanted us to get to a better place than what they had," she said. If that 40-mile bus ride seemed a little daunting, Juanita's mother was right behind her to say: "You'd better be on that bus."


Now Juanita is in a much better place, as are the four children she and her husband Luis have raised—Sonia, 29; Rebecca, 27; Marcos, 26; and Gaby, 20—who are all college educated.