By Linda Andersen
“I’ve really enjoyed working with kids and staff. Kids are our future; we need to invest in them,” says Char Langen who has served as school nurse/public health nurse for 30 years in Kittson County.
A native of Mahnomen, Minn., Char received her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) degree from the North Dakota State College of Science at Wahpeton, N.D.
Why did she choose nursing as a career? She’s following in her mom’s footsteps – “My mom’s a nurse,” she explains, adding “It was meant to be.”
Her marriage to Dave Langen, a native of Kittson County, brought her to the area. She worked on and off at the Developmental Center in Grafton for six or seven years and then at the hospital and nursing home in Hallock. She continued her education at the University of North Dakota to secure her four-year degree and public health nursing certificate.
“My focus is their medical issues that interfere with their learning,” she says of her work as school nurse. She is responsible for the health needs of students at Kittson Central, Tri-County, Lancaster Public School, Heritage Christian School, and the Plymouth Brethren School at St. Vincent.
She says the biggest physical health ailment in her schools now is asthma. Surprisingly, no current students have diabetes.
She says there’s never a dull moment when one is working with children and she finds satisfaction in her interactions with them. “Seeing a sparkle in their eye after someone has connected with them is just priceless.”
“They’re very honest; you never know what’s going to come out of their mouths.” She tells the story of trying to check for lice, in a very confidential manner in a classroom, when a student blurted out, “I’ve got lice.”
Do students ever come to visit her office who aren’t really sick? “Absolutely – 50 percent of the time,” she says. She’s used to students coming to see her with “vague complaints.” After a 10 to 15 minute chat, she often finds there’s “a lot more to the story.” Sometimes the problem can be traced to something as simple as an upcoming spelling test for which the student hasn’t studied.
Char has seen changes over the years and says more medical needs are apparent today than when she began. Those increased needs are a result of fractured families and the fact that, because of advances in medical care, more children are being saved today – ones who would not have survived in an earlier day. She’s also seen changes in immunization requirements (more have been added) and she’s seen improvements in medications for hyperactivity.
She says her concern is not only for physical health, but also emotional health. “Some of the kids don’t stand a chance unless there’s someone in their corner at school,” she comments.
She emphasizes that a “team effort” is required to adequately meet student needs. “Because of all the needs it’s so nice to have extra support staff to help –from social workers, to cooks, to janitors, to secretaries.”
Parents are also important. What advice does she give to them? “Work hard to be your child’s cheerleader in all aspects of life.”
On the subject of behavior issues, she says it’s important to ask, “Why are we seeing this behavior?” She continues, “If you can answer that, you’ve got some idea how to help this child with what they’re going through.”
On a personal note, David and Char have three children: Ashley is a special education teacher who will present them with twin grandchildren in January, Kyle is an agronomist, and Whitney is an LPN.
On the subject of what she does when she’s not working, she responds, “I like to shop and visit family and friends. I am still looking for a hobby.”
Caught in her office at the hospital in Hallock during her summer, part-time work schedule she explains what she does when school is not in session – she works on grants, child and teen checkups, and various assignments from her supervisor, Cindy Urbaniak.
As the visit comes to an end, she offers these words, “I’d like to thank parents and staff for accepting me and accepting my position and working with me.”