Fair Grove Nurses Fight Through The Pandemic

May 27, 2021

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Outside Nurse Cantwell’s office.

As anyone you ask can attest, this year has been a lot to handle; but when you are the first line of defense for 1,130 students, there is an added level of difficulty to navigating school during a pandemic. That being said, the Fair Grove School Nurses deserve recognition.

This year the Fair Grove Nurses have had a lot on their plates. Beyond handling the normal chaos of school injuries, they are also addressing COVID- 19 related problems. The nursing staff have been in charge of contact tracing, parent phone calls, and everything relating to quarantining.

Elementary nurse Mandy Miller said, “In terms of the number of students coming in and out, the nurse’s office has been less active. I think this was the case for two reasons. One, we purposefully limited student visits to the nurse in order to prevent spread. And, two, I think parents did a really good job of not sending their kids to school when they didn’t feel well. She went on to say, “In terms of contact tracing and parent phone calls, the nurse offices have been much more active. Nurse Brandy had to bear the brunt of contact tracing and quarantines as the middle school and high school students are much more involved in extracurricular activities and not as spread out in the classroom.”

Middle and high school nurse Brandy Cantwell described the business of her nurses office and said, “I would say the nurses offices have been just as busy, if not more, this year because of COVID. Teachers are sending more students down because of illness related symptoms that they would not have had to in years past as we try to catch anyone ill from being at school. That causes the nurses office to be a little busier in terms of evaluations & assessments. Also, calling parents and giving students a place to rest until they are able to go home has caused a larger number of students to be in the nurses offices at times. But it has been less active when it comes to students coming in for more minor issues because our teachers have had triage other issues this year like band-aids or hygiene items. She added, “I see on average around 15-20 students a day not including the students that have to come to me for scheduled medications or interventions.” While the nurses’ offices has been full, several of the classes have been missing students as quarantines were required to several students throughout the schoolyear.

Handling quarantine has been the largest difficulty for the nurses this year. It is a lot of responsibility and has the added disadvantage of being a bearer of bad news. Cantwell explained, “To be honest, it has been incredibly difficult at times. COVID is very unpredictable. And with students and staff often times receiving a positive test result in the evenings or weekends, it meant the nurses also had to invest extra time during the evenings and weekends to ensure those affected by a positive test were notified in a timely manner. Whether it was measuring desks, going through all 8 hours of seating chart or calling parents, it is very time consuming. Often that meant missing our own plans, children’s activities or time with our family to handle those situations. That was difficult this year and I look forward to that ending one day hopefully soon.

Cantwell shared, “The hardest thing for me personally, as I mentioned earlier, were the quarantines. I want to have a good relationship with our students and their families. No parent wants to receive a phone call from the nurse that their child has to miss out on activities, sports or school because of a quarantine. Those events are important to our students and their families. It’s even worse when it is the 3rd, 4th or 5th time the nurse has called with that news. I did not like having to deliver that information to families (especially around Christmas). I’ve received a lot of mixed emotions and responses from parents and it can be hard not to take those situations personally. But as a parent, I understand and knew I was doing what was in the best interest for our school and our families as a whole.” The year has been difficult for the nurses.

Along with the extra workload, the nurses had to change how they did things in the elementary school. Miller explained, “We have taken many of the same precautions as the rest of the district. Social distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene, personal wellness checks, ect. Prior to the start of the school year, we made sure we had appropriate PPE such as masks and gloves. We also had to create isolation areas in each building. In addition, we were trained by the SGCHD as contact tracers, attended weekly virtual meetings with SGCHD, and participated in the development of the reopening plan.

Things changed in the high school as well. Cantwell stated, “COVID-19 has changed a lot of how the nurses office functions this year. Every other year I do my best to keep students in school, even when they are not feeling 100%. However this year my focus had to shift to making sure anyone who was not healthy was not at school. So that meant that I was not able to treat minor illness symptoms like a headache, allergies or cough like I would have in years past. Everyone who came in had to be evaluated for COVID-like symptoms and that made things a little more tricky this year. It also meant I delivered medications this year instead of having students gather in my room like usual and I could not have as many students in the nurses office at a time. I’ve had to re-evaluate the best way to care for our students while also following along with the health departments guidance.

Even in the midst of the difficulty of the year, the nursing staff offered positive statements concerning the response of the district. Cantwell cited the districts guidelines to keep students safe and shared, “Yes, I do 100% feel that our district implementing a mask policy for the school year greatly affected the amount of students and staff we had that became ill or who had to be quarantined. While we still had over 900 quarantines throughout the year, the amount of students who became ill while out on quarantine because of their exposure was almost zero. Also spacing students out during lunch and in classrooms that could, kept our quarantine numbers lower than they could have been.” COVID-19 has greatly affected the school year.

Miller praised the integrity of the district to meet challenges head on and said, “I am not sure that the school district has changed because of Covid. I think as a whole, our district did what it always does when faced with challenges, which is to adapt and make the best of the current circumstances. It wasn’t always easy, but I cannot think of a better group of people to navigate a Covid school year with. It’s always good to be an eagle!

The nurses have worked hard this year to keep the Fair Grove School District safe and operational. Working with all of the school’s staff and students to make things work so the student body could come together this year. With all that work and little recognition, it’s safe to say that the nurses are the school’s unseen heroes.

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