At Center for Inquiry 27, Thomika Gouard-West is the heart and soul of the school for many students.
In her first year as the school’s nurse, Gouard-West has done everything in her job description, including distributing prescription medicines, wiping runny noses, and applying up to 15 ice packs daily on injured fingers, elbows, feet, and soothing the occasional bruised ego.
And many times, students walk into her first-floor office just seeking a friend and confidant.
“The thing that makes me the star of the show is I am a resource for every individual in the building,” said Gouard-West, who disdains traditional nursing garb in favor of more relatable, student-friendly work attire. “I show students my genuine personality, so they feel comfortable enough to allow me to care for them. I don’t want to give those prehistoric school nurse vibes.
“Students know they can come to the clinic for more than an ice pack. I give them a chance to vent and come up with the best solution to move forward. Some students need a listening, nonjudgmental ear.”
Natalie Lara, an IPS nurse and health services specialist for the district, pointed out that Gouard-West is an outstanding example of a modern school nurse.
“Her willingness to hold space for vulnerability and connect with our students by relating through both experiences and representation I think makes all the difference,” Lara said.
IPS places a strong emphasis on the well-being of about 31,000 students and 4,000 staff in the district.
IPS has a mixture of health service options throughout the district. School-based health centers are staffed with full-time or part-time nurse practitioners and are provided in collaboration with several federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). In addition, IPS schools have direct-hire nurses and nurses contracted through a partnership with IU Health.
NOT EASY BEING A CHILD
Gouard-West understands that it’s not easy being a youngster in today’s world. As a child, she battled with undiagnosed ADHD. It wasn’t until she started to study for her nursing career that it was discovered.
“After being honorably discharged from the military, I became a certified nursing assistant in 2004 and realized that nursing is my calling,” she said.
In 2009, she started the education process to become a registered nurse.
“I went through numerous obstacles during school with one of the biggest being diagnosed with ADHD,” said Gouard-West. The psychologist that determined these diagnoses gave recommendations for me to pursue a certificate degree or become a laundry aide. This fueled me to work harder to accomplish my goal.”
Gouard-West was accepted into nursing school in 2014 after graduating with an associate degree in general studies. The next step was nursing school — something that was challenging for an individual with ADHD.
But, she discovered methods to retain information necessary for her classes.
“I was not about to let someone determine my future and so after five long years of blood, sweat, tears I reached my light at the end of the tunnel,” Gouard-West said. “I transformed into the superhero known as Thomika, RN BSN. It was game time!”
PART OF A TEAM OF SUPERSTARS
While she is not cloaked in superhero leotards and doesn’t toss thunder and lightning down the hall, Gouard-West believes she is a part of a team of superstar educators at the school.
“When students come to the clinic it’s either they need to reset or tap out. They might be too ill to continue the day,” she said “Other things are the need to take a nap, get a snack, or just to say hello and tell me something about their day.
“It just makes me feel good that I can promote physical and mental wellness. I never realized how important these things were during my childhood years. Now, it’s my turn to help.”