2017-09-21 / Front Page

New school district nurse steps into full-time role

Toracinta previously has worked in Middletown, South Kingstown

Patty Toracinta, the district’s new school nurse, examines kindergarten student Regan Anton at Melrose School. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Patty Toracinta, the district’s new school nurse, examines kindergarten student Regan Anton at Melrose School. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN When the first bell rings every fall, students in their new clothes begin studying new subjects under the watchful eyes of their new teachers.

When the 2017-18 academic year commenced, however, it was the first time in a quarter century a new face peered out from the nurse’s office.

Patty Toracinta replaced Renie Sullivan as school nurse this year following a 25-year tenure. It was Sullivan’s enthusiastic praise for the district’s school system that persuaded Toracinta to submit her resume.

“She had nothing but great things to say,” Toracinta said. “I would be crazy not to apply.”

Toracinta, a Newport native, left her part-time post in Middletown after three years to accept the full-time gig in Jamestown. Before that, she worked in South Kingstown public schools for 13 years. Because the first few weeks can be the busiest, Toracinta still is transitioning to her new position.

“Everything’s brand new, so I have to give it a little time,” she said. “The staff could not be more wonderful and welcoming and helpful.”

Superintendent Ken Duva said Toracinta stood out from the other four candidates for the job because of her past experience as a school nurse and her dedication. Since she was hired, he said, she has shown that same commitment in Jamestown.

“She has been extremely professional,” he said. “She’s very dedicated to the job and getting to know who the children are, the families and the staff. She came during the summer and made sure that she went through all the health records and made sure all of the requirements for the start of the school year were completed.”

While her tenure is less than a month long, Toracinta already has received a warm welcome from the parents, who reached out during the first month to confirm medications, allergies and immunizations. As the only school nurse in Jamestown, Toracinta splits her time between Melrose and Lawn schools, with an office in each building. This is a major change from Middletown, where she was one of four nurses — and that was just at the high school. To keep the faculty plugged into her whereabouts during the day, Toracinta has developed a schedule with office hours. There may be some circumstances, however, when she is unavailable in one building because of a medical emergency in the other.

“Having two schools is different,” she said. “It is unique. It’s a little bit of a juggle.”

As a nurse, Toracinta has several duties aside from taking care of children who get sick during the school day. She also makes sure students are taking their medications at the correct times while coordinating yearly vision and hearing screenings required by the state. On a few occasions, she will visit classrooms at a teacher’s request to educate children about a classmate’s medical condition or disability, such as epilepsy or diabetes.

“I’m more than happy to do that,” she said. “Kids are curious. If you teach them, they have the knowledge and it’s just a better situation.”

Toracinta also maintains the district’s allergy policy, notifying teachers and cafeteria workers about students who are susceptible to certain foods. For these children, she works with parents to create an individual health-care plan with an emergency strategy. A notice is posted at each school’s entrance with a list of these allergens, while a peanut-free lunch table is available in each cafeteria for students who are allergic to nuts. Toracinta has first-hand experience with this as her daughter is allergic to nuts.

“I really can relate, especially to the kindergarten parents who come in with their young child with allergies,” she said.

A 1983 graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, Toracinta worked as a registered nurse at hospitals throughout New England before her introduction to school nursing at the turn of the 21st century.

“It was the scheduling,” she said.

At that time, Toracinta and her husband, Brian, a sixth-grade teacher at Thompson Middle School in Newport, had three young children. Because of the erratic hours for hospital nurses, she wanted a steadier job so they could spend more time together as a family.

Toracinta’s favorite part about being a school nurse is the children.

“They give you such energy and joy,” she said. “They can be funny and so warm. They’re just fun.”

As she gets acclimated to her new role and starts familiarizing herself with the community and culture, Toracinta has maintained contact with Sullivan for advice.

“She’s was a crackerjack of a nurse,” Toracinta said. “She gave 25 years of service. She’s a hard act to follow.”

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