Kenowa Hills ? Along with applying Band-Aids and consoling tearful kindergartners who have tummy aches, eight on-site district nurses are testing students for Covid-19 and reaching out to the families of those who test positive.
The nurses are stationed in all district elementary, middle and high schools, prepared when students test positive to provide information about the coronavirus, resources from the Kent County Health Department and a plan of action to best help students recover and return to school without falling behind. (The district’s dashboard tracks positive cases)
“Our number one priority during this time is establishing contact with students who reported multiple symptoms or a temperature,” said Quinn McGill, who works at Kenowa Hills High School. “We then follow our checklist to ensure the student is safely tested and the parents are informed about the next steps, depending on the results of the test.”
A nurse of seven years, McGill previously worked long shifts and odd hours in the fast-paced emergency room at Metro Health Hospital, in addition to providing Covid-19 testing for local businesses. She felt called to take on the new opportunity at the high school.
Now, she begins the day in her office reading through screenings students fill out each morning. If a student flags any concerns, McGill is on her feet to locate the student in class and begin the process of contacting their family to provide guidance about testing and potentially transferring a students’ workload home.
The nurses’ positions are possible thanks to grant funds from Kent County.
“We are able to do vitals on kids who aren’t feeling well and bandage up wounds,” said Alpine Elementary nurse Rachel Boafo. “School nurses are also here all day for kids whose parents may not be able to pick them up when they are ill or injured and we monitor them consistently for any changes.”
Getting to Know Your Nurses
McGill, Boafo and Kenowa Hills Middle School’s nurse, Jesseca Schrader, connected with their contracted positions at Kenowa Hills through Nathan Baar, founder and CEO of HealthBaar, a local health care-service provider.
“HealthBaar is presenting health options to the community through services that they might not be able to access,” Schrader said. “At Kenowa Hills, our main focus right now is providing accessible Covid-19 testing within the school building.”
Boafo started working part-time for HealthBaar during the beginning of the pandemic, providing testing for local business’ employees. When she received word of a full-time position in Kenowa Hills for a school nurse, she jumped at the opportunity.
As a full-time nurse in Metro Health’s Intensive Care Unit, Schrader works in the middle school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. She is also working on her master’s degree in nursing for education from Ferris State University.
“I love the change of pace the schools bring,” Schrader said. “I love seeing the kids every day and getting to know them and working in such a fun environment.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s in nursing from Grand Valley State University, McGill started out working in the orthopedic unit at Metro Health.
McGill explained it has been difficult to really get to know all of her students with her busy schedule, but she remains optimistic about those relationships forming over time.
“Being with teengers is a brand new challenge in new and cool ways for me,” McGill said. “You find connections when you least expect them. One student I spoke with told me her cat’s name was Quinn and that was great.”
A Need for Nurses
Especially now, when public health is the main concern for schools to remain open, school nurses are providing much-needed services. Many schools have gone without school nurses for years, with the National Association of School Nursing in 2016 reporting that only 39% of schools in the U.S. employed full-time nurses and 35% employed part-time nurses.
“Having a school nurse really alleviates some of the pressure on other staff members who have taken on the role of assessing injured students and administering medications for students with disabilities,” Boafo said. “With all the COVID-19 protocols and procedures it is crucial for medical staff to be here to coordinate the care of at-risk staff and students and to help manage the flow of it all.”
In a 2020 survey, the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) identified the major roles of school nurses as student outreach, chronic condition management, updating policies and providing education for staff and students. It also found that 78% of school nurses used their time to review student data to see new trends and keep students and staff healthy, safe and learning.
Schrader identifies a major challenge of her job to be the unknowns of the pandemic, as well as the need for full time nurses in schools. Similarly, McGill has met new and engaging challenges with her new position, but remains hopeful for the permanent return of nurses.
“Hopefully this is the start of getting nurses back into schools,” McGill said. “It would be really cool to see schools have the best of both worlds with nurses and athletic trainers to provide more holistic care for students.”