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Critical-care nurses

"Critical-care nurses" Continued...

Issue: "Rita: Strike 2," Oct. 1, 2005

The kids went further: Ms. Treaster's curriculum didn't address sexuality per se, but students would sometimes bring it up, asking, "When is it OK to have sex? When is it OK to have a baby?"

Most of the students came from low-income urban neighborhoods that included a lot of single-parent households. That presented Ms. Treaster with the delicate problem of holding to biblical morality without condemning lifestyles the children had observed in their own homes-of which some were a product. "I knew that a lot of kids had moms who had never been married, or had siblings from different fathers," Ms. Treaster said. "I didn't want to say, 'Well, your life is wrong.'"

Instead, she said, "You're not ready to have sex until you're ready to take care of a baby. And you're not ready to do that until you're married and have a stable family to bring the baby into."

"My mom's not married," some kids would say. Ms. Treaster's response: "That would be something you'll need to talk with her about."

Like Ms. Treaster, Cathy Hongosh, 48, would like very much to delve deeper than her school's unwritten policy on religious expression will allow her. A school nurse at Lakeridge Academy, a secular private school in North Ridgeville, Ohio, she leads a regular, informal chat session for fourth- and fifth-grade girls. The group "gets them ready for middle school, where it's really important to 'fit in,' to wear the right clothes and all that," Ms. Hongosh said. "We try to get to them before all that and talk to them about what makes them unique."

In some discussions, she said, each girl shares about something she likes to do and is good at. Ms. Hongosh affirms each girl's uniqueness, but it frustrates her that she must stop short of indelible affirmation, of telling the girls that God has created and gifted each of them and has a sovereign purpose for their uniqueness.

"I have to keep it on a real generic level," she said. "It's just scraping the surface. I can't get at the truth."

Ms. Hongosh emphasizes that she's never seen a written policy on the topic, or been told by Lakeridge officials that she can't go further. But the school celebrates diversity and she has noticed a hands-off approach to discussing religion. "I'm just being careful," she said.

She is also careful when kids come into her office with somatic complaints: the headache, the stomachache, the all-purpose "I don't feel good."

"Most of the time the [complaints] are not even real," Ms. Hongosh said. "I need to figure out whether they're trying to get out of something, or whether something else is really bothering them," such as fear of peers, a test, or an issue at home.

That's where more frustration comes in. "If I was working at a Christian school, I could talk to them about how God is with them in their situation, how God is helping them," she said.

Instead, she counsels them that she cares, and that there are other adults, including parents, who also care and will help. She also prays silently for each child who comes into her office. "I feel like that's what I can do right now and that that's important," Ms. Hongosh said.

That and giving each child a heartfelt hug. "It's kind of nice," she said, "that you can still do that."

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