Dot Haberlan reacts during a surprise assembly Wednesday inside the Kelly Meek Gymnasium at Steamboat Springs High School. Haberlan, who oversees nursing at all Routt County schools for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, was awarded School Nurse of the Year on Friday by the Colorado Association of School Nurses.

Photo by John F. Russell

Dot Haberlan reacts during a surprise assembly Wednesday inside the Kelly Meek Gymnasium at Steamboat Springs High School. Haberlan, who oversees nursing at all Routt County schools for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, was awarded School Nurse of the Year on Friday by the Colorado Association of School Nurses.

Steamboat’s Haberlan honored as state School Nurse of the Year

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Dot Haberlan talks with student Misael Maldonado inside her office Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs High School. Haberlan oversees eight nurses for all Routt County schools. Haberlan called her job as a school nurse the easiest, hardest and most rewarding. Haberlan said she applied to become a school nurse because she thought she could do some good.

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Dot Haberlan inside her office Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs High School. Haberlan, who oversees nursing at all Routt County schools for the Visiting Nurses Association, was awarded School Nurse of the Year.

Steamboat Springs High School nurse Dot Haberlan was tricked twice last week.

During the first ruse, Haber­lan was told there was a medical emergency at Steam­boat Springs Middle School. Instead she found the Steamboat Spring School Board, which told Haberlan the Colorado Association of School Nurses has named her School Nurse of the Year for 2010. School Board members also proclaimed last week “Dot Haberlan Week.”

For the second ruse, Haber­lan was told that a student was hurt while playing lacrosse during physical education class. Haber­­lan suspected she was being set up but still grabbed her medical bag and headed toward Kelly Meek Gym­nasium.

When she saw all the backpacks lining the outside wall of the gym, the jig was up. But even Haberlan didn’t expect what she found inside. More than 600 students and the school’s faculty and staff all stood to greet her.

“Dot, today, we pulled off a little surprise for you,” Principal Kevin Taulman said from mid-court.

The crowd clapped as she walked toward Taulman. They chanted, “Dot, Dot, Dot.” Assis­­tant Principal Marty Lam­­an­­sky presented Haberlan a crown, which she promptly put on, and a warehouse-size box of Dots candy.

Each Anchor class, a group of students who stick together all four years of high school, gave Haberlan pieces of construction paper in the shape of dots, with personal messages written on them. Students hugged her.

Haberlan thanked the crowd. After the short assembly, she stood and wiped a tear away from her eye.

“This is just way cool,” she said. “It’s probably the coolest thing that’s happened in my work career, probably the greatest thing that will happen. These are great people.”

She was awarded during the Colorado Association of School Nurses fall conference Friday night in Breckenridge.

Haberlan and her husband, Gary, moved to Steamboat in 1978. She had several nursing jobs before joining the school district 20 years ago. Now, Haberlan oversees health services for all Routt County schools, eight nurses, for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Haberlan is a diabetes re­­­source nurse for Northwest Colo­­rado, a program created by the National Association of School Nurses in conjunction with the American Diabetes Assoc­­iation.

Two high school students who have diabetes and have worked with Haberlan for years wrote letters of recommendation for her. Senior Skyler Barry has known Haberlan since she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in fifth grade.

“Dot is very good with kids of all ages and really honestly cares about every one of us, and you can tell that because she takes the time to talk to you and knows about your family and does what she can to make you feel better, even it’s just a pep talk to keep you from being down,” she said.

Haberlan also serves as a coordinator for the Medicaid Extended School Health Pro­gram, an arm of the federal Medicaid program that reimburses school districts for certain services.

“I’ve been in the nursing profession for 21 years. She would be the most dedicated nurse that I’ve encountered in that time,” said Sally Borgerding, the nurse at Strawberry Park Elementary School. “It’s dedication to the students, her staff, the staff at all the schools as well as parents.”

Borgerding, who nominated Haberlan for the award, added that the recognition was overdue.

More than a day job

In addition to all Haberlan’s school-related duties, there’s more.

She and Gary, a pharmacist at Yampa Valley Medical Center, created the Routt County Child Health Assistance Program three years ago. The program, which is administered through the VNA, pays for services for children who don’t have health insurance, such as doctor visits or prescriptions.

The program, which receives fundraising assistance from the Yampa Valley Healthcare Foundation, also provides eyeglasses or dental care for children without insurance.

“It’s really hard to see kids who need help and I can’t fix it or find someone to fix it,” Haberlan said. “That fund helps a huge amount.”

Taulman said Haberlan fills any role she needs to, and he mentioned that she started buying food last year for students who weren’t being fed at home. The school’s parent group now helps out.

He called her part primary care physician, part psychologist and part counselor.

“I’ve worked with a lot of school nurses,” Taul­man said. “There’s a lot of kids who graduated just because of her. I can’t say that about another nurse at any place I’ve been.”

Haberlan called her job as a school nurse the easiest, hardest and most rewarding.

She said it’s the easiest because she has a great support system through the VNA and the school district. She said it’s the hardest because she often sees students who are struggling, whether their families are having economic problems, they aren’t eating, or they’re just sick. She said it’s rewarding being able to use her skills to get students the medical care they need.

Haberlan said she didn’t become a nurse to work in schools. It wasn’t until a school nurse joined her during a summer at Steamboat’s extended care facility, what is now the Doak Walker Care Center, that Haber­lan thought about applying for a job as a school nurse.

“I thought that could be a place I could do some good,” she said.

It appears that Haberlan has.

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