Influencer of the Week: Mandi Brown, West Orange High

Mandi Brown is the school nurse for the Warriors.

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  • | 11:30 p.m. August 25, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Mandi Brown isn’t only the school nurse at West Orange High. To some students, she’s “Momma Mandi.” Along with providing medical attention to students, Brown aims to be someone who shows them they have potential and advocates for them. She also mentors struggling students and acts as the homeless-student representative to provide dignity and support to those students. 


What brought you to your school?

I had been an adult critical-care nurse for seven years at a Level 1 trauma center in Northern Virginia when I made the decision to shift to school nursing to allow me to spend more time with my husband and five young kids. That was back in 2011. While I miss bedside nursing, working with critically ill patients and supporting their families, my eyes were quickly opened to the complex issues facing our children and teachers in schools on a daily basis. In Virginia, I worked in several schools at the elementary and middle-school levels. I also served on the Education Committee and the Policies and Procedures committee for my school district. In late spring of 2015, Disney lured my husband, a data scientist, away from the CIA to join Disney’s analytics team. Off to Florida we went. I interviewed at various hospitals but felt I wanted to stay in the school system to continue to support students, families and staff and also have a schedule that aligned with my kids. I literally walked in to the office at West Orange High School with my résumé in hand and said I would love to be their school nurse. They interviewed me the next day, and I was offered the job. I didn't realize how rare it was to have a registered nurse in the schools here in Florida until later. So I feel like the stars aligned a little. 

What do you love most about your school?

There are two things I love about West Orange — the traditions and the diversity. In a part of town that has seen massive growth over the last decade, West Orange has been around for (more than) 40 years and has cultivated some deep traditions. I graduated from the University of Miami. … I was a student athletic trainer with the football team and loved the attitude and pride of running out onto the field through the smoke. It was cool to see that tradition replicated at West Orange. I like a little swagger. Beyond sports, West Orange has deep roots and excels in various activities from band and chorus, to theater and debate and FFA and ROTC. Once a Warrior, always a Warrior! I also love that our student population is diverse. When you are exposed to people who may not look like you or have the same upbringing as you, there is an opportunity to learn and grow from each other. There is an opportunity to broaden your views, practice acceptance and tolerance, and see the world from new perspectives. Stereotypes have a better chance to be broken down so we see the humanity of every individual. Honestly, some of these kids have taught me more than I will ever teach them. 

What is your motivation? 

I like to help people — all people. I like to be there to comfort kids when they are sick, help them cope when they get a new and sometimes life-changing diagnosis, provide education on everything from disease processes and self-care to injury treatment and recovery ... and to be a safe place for kids to go who are struggling with mental health concerns and other challenges. Maslow's hierarchy of needs drives me. Kids cannot be ready to learn in the classroom if their physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, and esteem are not met first. That's where I come in. I act as the homeless student representative to help provide dignity and support to students experiencing homelessness. I mentor struggling students who need a little more structure and guidance to get on track to pass classes and graduate. Some kids call me Nurse Mandi and others refer to me as Momma Mandi because I try to be the person to show them that they have potential and help give them the skills and confidence to reach that potential, and be their advocate at the school.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

The most rewarding part of my job is building relationships. Kids have to trust you to open up to you. I do my best to earn the trust of students, their families and our staff to help bridge relationships and have meaningful dialogue. It doesn’t matter if it’s something as simple as bandaging up a scrape from a fall; providing some medication for a headache; responding to a parent’s urgent text that they are getting notification on their phone that their child’s blood sugar is getting dangerously low and letting them know you have them, they are safe and you are treating them; or comforting a crying student helping to tell their parents they are struggling with something serious, then providing resources for the family to get help. … I will always give them a fair assessment and support them so they can get back to the business of learning in the classroom.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy spending time with my family. I love watching sports and spending time outdoors. We enjoy watching movies and TV as a family also. I also have a second job with Amphibious Medics where I act as a health and safety technician on various construction sites providing health care and wellness screenings to the workers on the site.

Who was your favorite teacher when you were in school? Why?

I was blessed to have a lot of great teachers, including my mother. My mom was my health and P.E. teacher in high school. She was a great teacher and definitely held me to a high standard. I had two great science teachers, Mr. Eppley and Mr. Wetzel. They really developed my love of science both in the classroom and doing field work and extra experiments/projects. And I had a very strict 10th-grade English teacher. She hammered grammar, which definitely gave me an edge when heading to college. I also had a fantastic Honor Society sponsor. He pushed for us to take big trips, which opened my eyes to the difference in cultures around us.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why? 

I wanted to be a marine scientist specializing in shark biology. I still think that would be an amazing job. Sharks are intelligent and curious creatures. The ocean is my happy place. And I have always had a taste for adventure. I am SCUBA certified and have had the pleasure of doing several shark dives. Unfortunately, the jobs are few and far between, and I fell in love with an officer in the military. I needed a job where I could move around from base to base. I struggled with the decision to go back to school for teaching or nursing. I picked nursing and now I get to combine the two worlds anyway. I still have swimming with a great white shark without a cage on my bucket list; maybe one day.




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