Cleveland schools are handing out condoms to prevent pregnancy and STDs among teens

CLEVELAND - When Debbie Aloshen, RN, LSN, began work as a school nurse more than 30 years ago, she was there mostly for “boo-boos and bandages.”

Today, as Director of Nursing Services for the Cleveland Municipal School District, Debbie and her 51 nurses serve a variety of roles for the system’s students – half of them living in poverty. For too many of them, their only contact with the healthcare system is through their school nurse and MetroHealth’s School Health Program where kids can be seen by a doctor.  The mobile clinic currently serves more than a dozen schools in the district, and there are also dental and vision programs for students.

These nurses look out for their students in countless ways and will help students and families find the care they need.

Beverly Scott, RN, LSN — nurse at Mound STEM school — said she sees a lot of kids with anxiety and other mental health issues.

“Mom and Dad are fighting, or somebody shot up their house in a drive-by. We have a family here that was at a gas station across the street two weeks ago – somebody got killed, and they saw that happen," she said.

Another student had a voucher to get glasses that was about to expire. Her mother wouldn’t take care of it, so Beverly drove the girl to an optical store to get the glasses she needed to see.

“A sick child cannot learn, and that’s what we say all the time,” said Aloshen.

Keeping their kids in school and learning also means addressing life-altering risks that come with adolescence and sexual activity.

“The CDC says over 22,000 kids between ages 12 and 19 in Cuyahoga County have one or two STDs and have been treated. That’s a lot. And when you consider all those that haven’t been treated, it’s frightening,” said Aloshen.

So the district makes condoms available to students in the nurse’s office, with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“All of our clinics are safe zones. What you do or say in there, we’re not judging you. We want to help you," she said.

And it's working.

“This is the first year I did not see, and I keep these records, I did not know of any child between age 11 and 13 who was pregnant. First time in many years.”

The nurses in Cleveland schools also try to help their kids see beyond a sense of hopelessness.

“You talk to them and say, 'what do you want to do when you graduate?' They don’t have a clue," said Scott. "Their thing is to survive from today until tomorrow. And that’s sad.”

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