Thrive by IU Health

May 19, 2022

Mother of four takes her nurturing spirit to school

Mother of four takes her nurturing spirit to school

Emily Ricketts is the mother of two boys and two girls. She is also a caregiver to Kindergarten through Fifth Graders at Willow Lake Elementary School.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

When her children were younger, Emily Ricketts was a stay-at-home mom. Once her youngest started preschool, Ricketts began working toward a degree in nursing.

“I like caring for people and I always wanted to be a nurse. It was all about the timing,” said Ricketts, who is married to Andrew Ricketts. Their children are ages 19, 14, 12, and 7.

She started her career with IU Health two years ago working OR with Riley Hospital for Children. In March of 2021 she began working as a school nurse at Willow Lake Elementary in MSD Washington Township.

According to the Indiana Department of Education the school is home to 680 students. More than half of those students are Black/African American, and about 150 are Hispanic. More that 73 percent of the student population is recognized as economically disadvantaged. Washington Township’s “English as a New Language Program” serves more than 1,654 emerging multilingual students. There is also one social worker at each of the elementary schools. Known as an “International Baccalaureate World School” the elementary focuses on “developing, inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

As the school nurse, Ricketts works with a team of professionals including teachers, aids, administrators, therapists and social workers to ensure students receive the best support for physical and mental health.

“Since COVID I’ve seen a lot more anxiety in students so I may do some referring to help them get the proper resources,” said Ricketts. “Some children come in for a hug, or a drink of water. A lot of them just need someone to talk to or some reassurance,” she said.

“COVID drastically changed the role of school nurses. And even though the past 2 years have been very difficult, these nurses, they are still stepping up and going above and beyond. The goal with school health is to always give students the best care possible and use all resources available to connect students and families with quality healthcare - that’s exactly what these nurses have done,” said Danielle Green, IU Health School Nurse Manager.

Ricketts hadn’t been to school long on a recent day when all three cots were filled in her office. One student complained of a sore eye, another had a headache, and a third threw up.

In between offering ice packs, and aspirin, Ricketts answered phone calls from parents and corralled students to visit the free dental clinic. She arranged for the clinic when she recognized that several students had limited dental care. She’s also discovered that many of the students have limited physician care.

“There are a lot kids who come into my office first thing. They don’t feel well at home and maybe their parents don’t have a thermometer, or they just aren’t sure what to do, so they tell the kids to come to the nurse first thing,” said Ricketts. “I’ve done a lot of education on signs, symptoms, and testing for COVID along with other illnesses.” For other students, she provides an expert set of eyes for chronic sickness and long term healing.

When Kindergartener Milan Sifuentes, slipped on the ice and fractured his head last winter, he spent three days in Riley Hospital for Children. When he returned to school, it was Ricketts who kept a close eye on the 6-year-old.

“Having a school nurse who knows the children and knows the needs, gives parents a peace of mind,” said Sifuentes’ mom, Elizabeth Perez.

“I love the students and this is a role that lets me have a schedule similar to my own kids, and still practice a career I love,” said Ricketts.