CHS senior presents bill to Senate committee

Stella Thornton, a Nevada youth legislator, is a senior at Carson High School.

Stella Thornton, a Nevada youth legislator, is a senior at Carson High School.
Dan Davis/CCSD

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Youth legislator Stella Thornton, 18, of Carson High School fielded many questions from senators when she presented Senate Bill 80 before the Committee on Education on March 15.

Thornton said it signaled a willingness to take the state’s young representatives seriously on issues important to them.

“I think we are all teenagers once, and since the teenagers now are saying, ‘This is what we want them to hear,’ I appreciated the questions,” the senior said.

Thornton’s bill would revise provisions relating to head injuries and Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association policies and establish a concussion management team. Her Return to Play guidelines could impact students who have been affected by an injury and need accommodations to return to school in a safe manner.

Thornton experienced a traumatic brain injury on Labor Day weekend in 2021 when she was bucked off her horse. She didn’t realize anything was wrong until the following day in class when she experienced blurry vision, nausea and an inability to focus. In the emergency room, she was told she had a concussion.

Returning to school was difficult. No one knew how to help, and about a month later, she suffered a second concussion, hitting her head on a cabinet at home.

“It was a second impact concussion, and if your concussion lasts for over a month-ish, you most likely have second impact concussion,” she said. “All of my symptoms were set back twofold.”

Thornton presented her Return to Learn and Return to Play procedures to the Carson City School Board in March 2022 after working with CHS adviser and biology teacher Julie Koop, athletic trainer Adam Hunsaker and Dr. Nicholas Murray, head of the University of Nevada, Reno Neuromechanics Laboratory.

Thornton’s recovery helped inform her proposed legislation. She takes time off as needed to rest, and some symptoms are still taking time to adapt to mentally and physically.

Blue coloring in fluorescent lights is problematic and she wears red-tinted glasses, commonly used to reduce light sensitivity, eye strain or migraines that might occur after concussions or TBIs. Thornton said she has received mixed reactions for the glasses and was not wearing them for her Senate hearing March 15.

“They think I’m wearing colored glasses because I am a teenager or think it is part of a trend,” she said. “I do appreciate when they say, ‘I like your glasses.’ However, it is something I’ve not ever liked.”

Hunsaker said he was “incredibly proud” of Thornton’s passion for the project.

“I think it’s needed professionally,” he said. “Being both an athletic trainer and science teacher, we’ve done a really good job at making sure athletes aren’t returning to the field before they’ve recovered from their concussions completely. They’re going through all kinds of protocols, making sure they’re passing tests, but the general student population is kind of left out to dry, and that includes athletes.”

Hunsaker said SB80 ensures all students have the accommodations to make sure they don’t fall behind academically. He also said Thornton made prior protocols he worked on for CHS more robust, using studies and the framework from nine other high schools.

Thornton said she enjoyed hearing proposals from other students around the state as she promoted her own.

“The Nevada Youth Legislature is such an amazing opportunity, and I hope this goes through,” she said. “There were some proposals on more school psychologists or more school social workers because as youth we see problems going on in high schools in our areas where we know there is a mental health crisis and we want to do something to change that.”

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