Dana’s Journal

Dana’s Journal

Olive Yonge
1993 3M Teaching Fellow

n the early nineties Alberta hospitals began laying off nursing staff. We were graduating nurses who quickly left Canada to pursue employment opportunities. The undergraduate students watched these new graduates leave, and many who knew they could not leave expressed frustration and dismay. Some became depressed at what they perceived as a bleak future. With the reduction of staff came a parallel process of reducing clinical opportunities for nursing education, resulting in the crowding of learners in hospitals. Professionally this was unacceptable to me, and so in 1994 I created an opportunity to teach nursing students mental health and psychiatric concepts in an inner-city elementary school. Those wanting community-oriented experiences would typically have observational experiences in agencies focusing on addictions, runaway youth, or sexually transmitted diseases. Our faculty had never used a school as a teaching site for nurses completing practicum or field placement requirements.

Over an eight week period, twelve third-year students planned and implemented sessions at Alex Taylor Community School in Edmonton. Its specific advantages included a receptive administration, a principal who had a history of being a pioneer and innovator in meeting children’s needs, and children and families in need of emotional and physical support. The innovation was a tremendous success. The idea spread to other faculty members and in our current curriculum nursing students are still learning in school settings.

This setting offered hope to the student nurses-they did not have to conceive of nursing as hospital-based. Secondly, when they compared their lives to those of the children, they understood that they had options and privileges and unemployment for them was a temporary situation. Thirdly, the students were given free range within parameters. I held workshops for them but they had to plan the group activities based on Watson’s Model. Lastly, they had to be creative and courageous. Alex Taylor was located in a high-risk area and students had to do everything on their own.

EXCERPTS FROM A STUDENT JOURNAL

Dana, an RN BSc student, kept a journal during her rotation at Alex Taylor Community School. These excerpts take us inside one student’s thoughtful experiences.

September 27, 1994 It’s 10:44 p.m. I’ve worked hard preparing for tomorrow, my first day at Alex Taylor School. Many emotions and doubts are tumbling around inside me. Above all else I want to have an impact on the life of a child. I want to be a vessel through which self-esteem, happiness, friendship, even hygiene flow. These kids will teach me more than I teach them. Changing people is neither within my power nor is it my responsibility. But it is my responsibility to present truthful information which might help someone to change his or her life.

September 28 Today was my first clinical day at Alex Taylor School. The inner city is like another world to me. I feel so privileged to be able to work with these children. The nursing program needs more “non-traditional” clinical rotations like this.

I try to imagine growing up without ever having slept in a bed or not understanding the concept of “dinner” or going to school in bitter weather without socks or mitts.

One child, D., touched me today. He did not want to be with me initially and kept his eyes downcast. So I showed him some of my photos, which led to a discussion of hockey and then to his story about how he’s never met his dad (he’s eleven) and how his sister gets· beaten up at school. Underneath his tough shell, which he needs to survive, he desperately longs for a father figure. I felt very honoured that he opened himself that much to me our first day.

October 6 I can hardly believe bleach and food colouring could get across a point so well! It was a great aid for discussing feelings, enabling our kids to internalize the concept of “dealing properly” with “dark feelings.” It thrilled me to see each little body stretched to watch the simple scientific experiment, followed by exclamations of Cool! Way out! How’d you do that? I know they’ll remember that lesson. C. said something which made my heart ache. We were discussing feelings and he said “I don’t think I have ever been really happy in my whole life. I’m lonely all the time.”

I think a lot goes through J.’s mind, because when he shares in groups, it is very moving and deep. He doesn’t discuss the things a child usually does. Perhaps he’s like B., who seems like an adult in the body of a child. S. is very touchy, wants hugs from me and won’t let go. He said when he’s mad he wants to punch people in the face. He’s another one I’d love to take home. H. has very low self-esteem. She needs lots of positive reinforcement and encouragement too. I feel a sense of victory when she asks a question or maintains eye contact. I love to watch these kids blossom. It reminds me that “no one is a human being, everyone is a human becoming.”

October 12 I love it when these kids soften enough to drop the mask and facade of” I’m tough! I’m cool! Don’t get too close!” Many say they don’t really have someone they can talk to, which makes me want a fulltime job here! In my Developmental Psychology class we are again rehashing the nature/nurture theories. I don’t understand how anyone can deny the effect environment can have.

D., my eleven-year-old boy for individual sessions, was very withdrawn and quiet today, preoccupied with the fact that his mom had given away his new kitten but kept her own. He felt let down and betrayed.

October 28 I never would have dreamed I would be using syringes to water Mr. Potato Heads, which just goes to show that nursing truly can be a creative art, not just a scientific process.

Last week I noticed H. really starting to open up, freeing herself to smile and share her opinion. This is great! She can relax, trust, and be free to be who she is meant to be. The principal encourages the school and the community to work together to combat loneliness and isolation. Yet they’re everywhere.

S. from my second group is always a bit louder, more demanding than the others. This week he whispered after our session, “Do I make you mad? Do I make it hard to run your group? Does it bother you to have me with you?” When I assured him that the group wouldn’t be the same without him and that I truly appreciated his presence, he put his arms around me and hugged me tight.

The different personalities of these children really shine through when they are given the freedom to experience their worth. The past two weeks have left me feeling confident, self-assured. But tomorrow we are dealing with sensitive topics: CHANGE, LONELINESS, LOSS, GROUP TERMINATION. Knowing how to deal with loss, that there is a “good” side to it, can affect someone’s whole life. We’re going to try a sort of meditation exercise to find our “secret places” to go to. I hope it works.

November 2 On my advice D. got his hair cut to show off his beautiful eyes. He seems in some ways like a different little boy, and he’s truly blessed me in the past eight weeks.

November 16 It is my hope and prayer that in these short eight weeks we were able to impact the lives of these children in some way. They have taught me so very much about life. My love for them will continue. When I hear the phrase “inner-city children,” I will no longer see negative images of lost little people. Rather I will always have a picture of sixteen lopsided, toothy little grins beaming up at me. On September 27 I wrote in this journal that I do not hold the power to change anyone, and still believe this is true. Yet now I realize that if I have instilled within even one child the confidence to change, I have some power all tire same.