New London — When she was a high school biology teacher in New Haven, Vanessa Reid often would field personal questions from her students after class.
"A lot of the kids would come to me with health and reproductive health issues," she said in an interview last week. But as their teacher, she was very limited as to how she could respond.
"So I decided I needed to be in a position where, when kids have these kinds of concerns, maybe I can help them," she said.
Several semesters of master's degree courses later, Reid became an advance practice registered nurse, and for the past five years has been caring for students in the New London High School health clinic, which is run by the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut. This week, her responsibilities in that office will increase when the clinic begins offering contraceptive prescriptions and condoms to students for the first time.
Of the 680 teens enrolled in the New London High clinic — about 75 percent of the student body — only 28 will be ineligible to receive contraceptive services because one of their parents has signed an opt-out form.
"They are coming in here already being (sexually) active," Reid told a small gathering of parents at a question-and-answer session last week about the new services. "It's a matter of making sure they have all the correct information, not going by something they heard from this friend or that friend. You can't claim this is a comprehensive health care service when you omit this whole side of health care."
Whenever she gives condoms or a prescription for birth control pills or the DepoProvera injection, she emphasized, she will also counsel students about safe sex, the ramifications of being sexually active, sexually transmitted diseases, the correct use of condoms, and the importance of talking to parents about these matters. Last year, she said, she administered 110 pregnancy tests, and regardless of the result, counseled the students and encouraged them to let their parents know.
"I try to give them as many opportunities as I can to involve their parents," said Reid, adding that she has often asked the student to call a parent from her office. That way, she can be there to offer support and talk to the parent if needed.
Christine Carver, assistant superintendent, said Reid's rapport with the students is such that they know they can come to her with difficult issues.
"She has that type of relationship where she's very straight with them and very honest, and doesn't beat around the bush," Carver said.
"She's very friendly, but she's not there to be their friend," added Joanne Eaccarinno, associate director of school-based programs at Child & Family. "They really feel very comfortable talking with her."
Students, Reid said, are usually very open with her about their sexual activity and other personal matters, largely a function, she believes, of her being in the school every day.
"They see my face every day," Reid said. "I think that helps put them at ease."
Apart from the contraceptive services, Reid's job involves all aspects of student health care, serving as the main primary care provider for many students. One day recently, she saw about 18 patients, including some who came for sports physicals, one with a sinus infection, a student with a perforated eardrum and one young woman with a vaginal infection.
"What doesn't come through the door?" she asked, seated at her desk in the one-room clinic after school one day. "They come in here for all sorts of things, from the simplest to things that need to be referred to the ER."