During a 45-minute period on a recent Thursday afternoon, Jessi Puga put cortisone cream on an itchy rash, a band-aid on a skinned knee and filled a cup of ice for a student with a sore mouth.
“I love working with the little ones,” said Puga, who is the school nurse at Pine Ridge Elementary. “Pediatrics is my passion.”
The little things like band-aids and ice provide relief and comfort to the children who need them. But they are just the tip of the iceberg for Puga, who is responsible for the health and wellbeing of 850 students at Pine Ridge, which is a four-track, year-round school. Some of her students have serious health issues such as asthma, diabetes and seizure disorders. Some have battled cancer. Others need nourishment through a G-tube.
“You’re working with children who have been in the hospital, who could be in the hospital,” Puga said. “It’s way beyond band-aids and taking temperatures.”
She is grateful the Cherry Creek School District is a strong supporter of student health. It is one of the only districts in the state that has a nurse in every school.
Puga considers herself part of her students’ health care team.
“I love the kids, getting to know the kids and the families. You’re really part of a community when you’re a school nurse,” Puga said.
School nursing is a second career for Puga, who initially earned a degree in sociology from the University of Colorado, then spent several years in marketing. Her husband, Joseph Puga, is a teacher at Indian Ridge Elementary. They share a passion for children and for education, which led Jessi Puga to school nursing. Six years ago she earned her bachelor’s degree at the Denver School of Nursing. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in school nursing with an emphasis in education, which means she will be able to teach other nurses.
“I want to be able to foster my love of nursing in others,” Puga said. “I knew I always wanted to get my master’s. I’ve always done continuing education. I love learning.”
But with a full-time job, a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, going to school can be a challenge. So Puga is earning her degree through Western Governor’s University (WGU). It offers a two-year, online program for working professionals, which gives Puga the flexibility to take classes at night and on the weekends.
The $14,000 cost of the program was also a challenge, so Puga applied for and received several scholarships, including the $10,000 Nursing Workforce Diversity Scholarship through the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence. The center’s Nursing Workforce Diversity Project seeks to expand the diversity of Colorado’s nursing workforce. Puga qualified for the scholarship because she is Hispanic and she is willing to spend at least two years after graduation working as a nurse educator, helping other nurses improve their knowledge and skills.
Michelle Weinraub, District Resource Nurse for Elementary Schools, says Puga exemplifies the commitment and work ethic of school nurses in the Cherry Creek School District.
“Jessi is determined to further her nursing education at the graduate level for many reasons,” Weinraub said. “She has a strong desire to elevate the care she provides to her students and school community, and she is an amazing role model dedicated to being a lifelong learner. We are so proud to have her as part of our CCSD nursing team.”