That afternoon I called Andrea’s mother.
“If you’ll give me permission to speak to the school nurse, I think she may be able to help Andrea,” I said.
Andrea’s mother gave me the OK.
After a couple of tries I reached the school nurse.
“Hi, my name is Val McCullough. I’m a counseling intern at the mental health clinic. One of your students—Andrea X. is a client of mine.”
“Oh yes—Andrea. She’s one of our new students. Very quiet, but very nice. I worry about her because she misses a lot of school,” the nurse said.”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about. She told me she doesn’t want to go to school—especially in the morning—in case she has to use the bathroom during the day.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s because of the girls who smoke in the bathroom. Evidently, they’ve offered cigarettes to her and when she’s refuses, the tease her.”
“This is an ongoing problem in our bathrooms,” the nurse said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the staff to monitor the situation.”
“But I have an idea that might help.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I have a group of girls that are interested in nursing as a career. They meet in my office at lunch time. I’ll invite Andrea to join the group.”
“I’ve never discussed career goals with Andrea, but the group support would be nice.”
“It’s a nice group of girls, and we discuss a variety of subjects—not just nursing,” said the school nurse.
For a moment I wondered how this would help the bathroom situation. Just as I was pondering this, the nurse said,
“I notice most of the girls in the group usually head to the restroom before going back to afternoon classes. I doubt the smokers will bother Andrea if she’s with a group.”
“Safety in numbers,” I mused.
I didn’t know if this would work, but I thought it was worth a try.
Before we hung up, the nurse instinctively answered one of the questions on my mind.
“You know, most eighth grade girls—will accept an invitation to join a group if it comes from a teacher or staff member.”
“Thanks for your help on this.”
I looked forward to Andreas’ next session. Somehow I had a good feeling about this plan.