Third local to garner state recognition

After 17 years at East Middle School, nurse Bonnie Canty can’t imagine working elsewhere.

Think again if you believe she conducts only vision screenings, weight and height measurements and treats garden-variety colds, bumps and bruises.

She does a heck of a lot more — enough to earn her the 2013-14 Montana School Nurse of the Year title.

Canty is a walking, talking clearinghouse and referral service for students. Her open door draws them as they pass between classes.

“When you do the little things, when the big issues come up, then the kids come in,” said Canty, listening to a young man who dropped in to share his knee brace story.

Two long-time colleagues — Shirley Gordon, Butte High School nurse, and Dot Warner, traveling elementary nurse — nominated her for the annual award last spring at the Montana School Nurses Association conference. Both have received the honor in the past.

“What impresses me about her is if necessary, she comes in on her own time,” said Gordon, who won the award in 2012.

It takes a special soul like Canty to guide them.

“It’s sometimes difficult to work with that age group,” said Gordon. “They’re going through transitions and sometimes have a lot of problems.”

Yet, Canty remains undaunted. Instead, she savors interacting with the kids.

“To me, every one of them is a learning opportunity,” said Canty, who deals with everyday problems like broken eyeglasses or sore braces.

“They’re still little kids and they’ll listen to me sometimes. But they’re starting to make their own health decisions. They’re anxious to do that independent decision-making.”

Her care is genuine, as she carries the students’ worries home with her.

“Every night I go home and cry a little bit,” she said, knowing that some students may lack proper medical care and guidance beyond school due to neglect or other circumstances.

Canty attributes her success and the Butte wins to a strong working network among school nurses.

“We’re willing to help others across the state,” Canty said. “It tends to be a solitary profession, but we’re very well-connected.”

Butte school nurses are also networkers willing to help younger school nurses who post questions on the association listserv.

“We’ve been at it for so long,” said Gordon, a 37-year district employee. Warner, who travels between three elementary schools, has worked in the district for 24 years.

Each has a large caseload: Canty has 600 students and Gordon, Warner and Barb Brown have 1,200 students each.

Keith Miller, East Middle School principal, said Canty works part-time, but “puts in a full-time effort.”

“She’s a huge advocate for kids,” he said. “It’s whatever the kids need.”

At least one student might agree with that.

“The kids really like her,” said eighth-grader Genna Maroney, who works as an office aide.

Contact Birkenbuel at or 406-496-5512.

Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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