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Terrace Heights Elementary school nurse Alaina Linden poses for a portrait in her office Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Yakima, Wash. Linden was nominated for the LifeChanger of the Year Award.

If the colorful crayon artwork that covers her office refrigerator is to be believed, Alaina Linden is the best nurse in the world. The students she treats at Terrace Heights Elementary School certainly believe so.

Parents and grandparents also fill out the ranks of the Nurse Alaina fan club. Dozens of comments on the Facebook page for the East Valley School District express appreciation for her.

“We’re really lucky to have her at Terrace Heights,” said Susan Coss-Buchanan, who has two grandsons attending the school.

She described Linden as great with kids and a positive presence at school and in the community.

“Outside of school, every time my grandsons see her she is just so friendly and good to them,” she said.

Though she has only worked at the school since the beginning of last school year, Linden has made such an impact that her co-workers nominated her for the LifeChanger of the Year Award, a national program that seeks to highlight school employees who go above and beyond.

In the nomination, Linden’s co-workers said she makes every student feel respected and special.

“It’s really sweet to see that other people think of you like that,” Linden said, referring to her nomination. “It just warms your heart, that people notice what you’re doing.”

School secretary Jeri Hayward was one of the people who nominated Linden. She already knew Linden from when they both worked in local health care. Hayward sees Linden as very approachable.

“Any time I have a question, I always go to her,” Hayward said. “She’s super understanding and down to earth. I feel like I could talk to her about anything.”

Linden said that it’s her goal to make the health office a safe space for students no matter what they need.

Back to school

A lifelong East Valley local, Linden attended the district’s schools herself. She loved school and hopes to pass that joy on to the students she works with now.

Ever since she was in elementary school, Linden had the unwavering desire to be a nurse. She got her associate’s degree in nursing from Yakima Valley College.

Linden used to work at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital as an emergency room nurse. After she had her second child, the nursing position opened up at her older son’s school, Terrace Heights. The opportunity seemed perfect.

“Being able to be here with my kid is a huge plus,” she said.

She still picks up shifts in the ER on the weekends.

Nowadays, managing the school’s COVID protocols takes up much of her time. Linden and the school secretaries have to track down all positive and potential cases, as well as determine which students and staff were in close contact with COVID-positive individuals.

“We’re keeping kids as safe as we can,” she said. “And I’m proud every day of how well we do in our district.”

Mondays tend to be the busiest, with parents finding out over the weekend if their children have symptoms or the virus. Linden comes in early, making call after call with her team.

She also has to tend to the normal bumps and bruises that come with schoolyard play. Kids come in for scraped knees or inhalers or to take their daily medication.

Ice packs are a hot commodity. Linden started the year with 60 but is down to about 10. To poke fun at their disappearance, she dressed up in a homemade ice pack costume for Halloween.

“Some of the kids were like, ‘Nurse Alaina, what are you?’ And I’m like, ‘If you don’t know what I am, we have problems because you guys are using me every single day from the freezer.’ They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re an ice pack!’” she recounted, laughing.

Linden said her interactions with the kids are her favorite part of her job. She often sees students or their parents outside of work in the tightknit community she grew up in.

Just a few weeks ago, she and her family went to a local trampoline park and saw several of her students there. The kids promised her they would look after her toddler and make sure he did not fall.

Always giving

Linden said she has not thought much about what she would do if she won the $10,000 grand prize that accompanies the LifeChanger of the Year Award.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up,” she said.

Still, she would like to see the school’s health room fully stocked with equipment more similar to a doctor’s office. That sort of environment would be especially helpful for kids who spend a lot of time in the health room, she said. And basic supplies like tongue depressors and paper cups are always needed.

She also likes to keep little prizes in her office that she passes out to kids she sees acting admirably.

“I want them to feel special, too, and know ‘You did an awesome thing for helping this friend come to the office today when they got hurt’ or ‘You did an awesome thing I saw you washing your hands really well,’” she said.

And of course, she can never have enough ice packs.

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