LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Penny Bailey

Position: School Nurse
School: Rhode Island School for the Deaf
School District: Rhode Island School for the Deaf
City, State: Providence, RI

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Penny Bailey was nominated by RI School for the Deaf director, Nancy Maguire Heath.

The Rhode Island School for the Deaf is a public school and a special education facility serving deaf and hard-of-hearing children aged 3 – 22 years.  As the certified school nurse, Mrs. Bailey supports a wide variety of medical and nursing needs to students, and she also provides health education resources to students in their classrooms.

"I have been a school administrator for 39 years and can honestly attest that Mrs. Bailey is the strongest, most knowledgeable and experienced school nurse I have ever worked with," said Heath. "She is a true partner to me in my work supporting families, and she always takes 'the whole child' into account. She has developed numerous important health policies for our school, frequently researches current best practices, is a member of the Health & Wellness Committee, and has served on several State boards and committees. Mrs. Bailey has presented to our Board of Trustees several times, and they always look forward to hearing from her. She is quick to bring any discrepancies in our school practices to my attention, and her nursing diagnostic skills have consistently proven to be highly reliable as I seek to make the strongest policy decisions for children in our care."

What sets Mrs. Bailey apart is that she understands the “big picture” and readily contributes to the overall goals of her school without forgetting the day-to-day challenges faced by the vulnerable families her school serves. She is so much more than a typical, hard-working school nurse. Her regulatory and reporting duties are carried out in a careful, competent, and thorough manner.  She is a critical presence in her school who is diligent in carrying out her work activities, mature in her service delivery with children, and thorough with her listening and analysis. She collaborates enthusiastically with everyone in her school community, including teachers, social workers, parents/guardians, and personal nurses who accompany fragile children to school.  Her interactions with doctors, the school dentist and consultants is highly skilled, and the trust they have in her observational skills and professional input is obvious.

Many of her students' families struggle to communicate effectively with their children if they have never been able to learn American Sign Language. This means her students are often not learning critical health information at home, and instead, they rely on their school to make this critical information understandable. Mrs. Bailey understands this, and she has worked very hard to learn ASL well enough to provide medical information and health education to students directly.

"On a more personal level, Penny is a practical, caring, and highly dependable employee," said Heath. "I have been able to observe her often as she carries out her duties within our school. She is the confidante for many children and for their families. Her trust is well-earned as she provides confidential, life-changing resources for many serious situations our families deal with on a daily basis. She is 'on the run' all day long, connecting with parents, faculty and staff and students." 

Mrs. Bailey communicates with students and many Deaf staff members using American Sign Language along with English, a critical language skill she has worked hard to master through the years. She demonstrates a strong ability to be relaxed and warm with the children without losing structure and purpose.  Her interactions with parents and staff are warm, professional, knowledgeable, and helpful. She is consistent in her care for students and flexible in her approach.  Her easy rapport with the students is a testimony to her ability to do whatever it takes to communicate effectively with children of varying language abilities and needs.  Above all, she is kind and optimistic, and she contributes to a more positive school culture every day.

Examples of her life-changing work:

  • She has driven children who haven't had dental care to dentists she has convinced to provide services without charge.
  • She collaborates with counselors and community agencies who are knowledgeable about deaf individuals and their unique needs to ensure that mental health concerns are addressed effectively.
  • Mrs. Bailey provides her observations and smart diagnostic information to health care providers on behalf of students and families who can't speak directly with physicians and health care professionals themselves.
  • She advocates for students who only communicate through ASL for their right to have interpreters present at medical appointments, when this is so often overlooked.
  • She educates students about many topics they may not have linguistic access to, such as dating violence, menstruation and reproduction information, the dangers of vaping, the importance of hygiene and personal care, the different roles that medical professionals are trained to provide, and how to administer personal medication safely.
  • Mrs. Bailey gathers clean, up-to-date clothing for students who are in need.

"Without Penny, our students would likely struggle with health issues and their own lack of understanding. In many, many cases, they would not receive proper medical, dental, or mental health care at all," said Heath. "Penny's 'outside the box' thinking related to serving students and families amazes me on a daily basis.  It's an honor to work alongside such a professional. I have great gratitude for her caring, supportive approach to educating and providing medical care for our students. She has been an amazing ray of hope for children and families and staff during the COVID seasons.  We have been fully in-person and she has made major efforts toward keeping us safe and preventing spread of the virus."