Jonlyn Miller, a health service nurse, didn’t think twice about joining the CTU when she began working in CPS. She had been fired from a school in Memphis for trying to organize her colleagues, so she understands the importance of a union.
“I was really drawn to work for CPS because of the CTU, and I was drawn to the union because of the experiences I had when I was an educator,” she said.
Before becoming a nurse, Miller tried her hand at education. After earning a bachelor’s of science in health administration and planning, the Champaign native joined Teach for America — not knowing much about it, she confessed — and quickly became disillusioned.
At her first assignment, in Memphis, she tried to organize the elementary school teachers against systemic inequities and was booted from the school. TFA assigned her to another school where she witnessed disturbing corporal punishment.
“That broke my heart and spiked my anxiety to the point where I threw up before school every day for four months,” she said. “My fury came to a head when a third-grade teacher entered my fourth-grade math room and hit one of my students with a yardstick so hard it broke.”
After that incident, she knew she had to leave. “I struggled for a long time with my decision to leave the program, having to leave my students,” she said. “But I just couldn’t stand by and watch that kind of abusive behavior go on with no means to stop it.”
After leaving TFA, she worked for a time as a contact tracer during the pandemic for the Shelby County Public Health Department before earning her bachelor’s of science in nursing from the University of Tennessee in 2021.
With a background in education and her nursing skills, becoming a school nurse was a natural next step. In 2022, CPS hired her and assigned her to four different schools. This year, she is providing services to John Hay Community Academy, Mary Lyon, and G.R. Clark Elementary schools — schools she worked at last year — and at a new school, Wildwood Elementary.
Her day as a school nurse usually starts with meeting students who have 504 plans to monitor their health conditions. She also has paperwork to do, meetings to attend and follow-up communications with parents.
Once lunch and recess begin, all bets are off. First aid picks up steam, with cuts, bumps and bruises to soothe. From there, she said, it’s a mad sprint to the end of the day with any and all of the above duties needing attention.
“I love that I am a trusted voice of knowledge and a welcoming presence in my schools and my students’ lives,” she said. “I also love hearing the outrageous and funny stories they tell me during their visits. But I am most proud of helping older students become fully independent in their own healthcare as they head off to high school.”
When Miller joined CPS, she was determined to chart a different path than the one she experienced in Memphis. She decided to become a citywide delegate representing clinicians.
“The work our union does is so vital, not just to our members’ safety and success but also for the students and families we serve,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to help strengthen our unity and solidarity.”
To expand her union chops, Miller joined this year’s Summer Organizing Institute in hopes of honing her organizing skills.
“I wanted to do the Summer Organizing Institute because I realized I’d gathered skills in kind of an ad hoc way, and I really wanted some more formal training program to give me the tools and the swagger of a CTU organizer,” she said. “I think it’s incredibly important that we take advantage of this tremendous program — that even our new mayor has participated in — to grow our network within the union and strengthen our solidarity.”
This year, Miller plans to formally join the CTU clinician committee to help hold the district accountable to its commitment to a full-time nurse in every single school.
Miller said she was drawn to education because she loves to “see the spark in students’ eyes when they learn something new.” She also was inspired to provide the same love and support to young people that she saw her mother, a preschool teacher, shower on her students.
“I wanted to be a safe place for my students to receive support and understanding,” she said. “That’s something that remains true today, even though I’ve moved from educator to clinician. Working in a system like CPS is not easy, but the smiles and laughs from the kids every day make it all worthwhile.”