By Elizabeth Driggers, Intern
Marilyn Sansom has been a nurse for 43 years. She’s worked at Barton Creek Elementary for the last five years and previously worked four years at Eanes Elementary. Never in her career has she experienced a year as challenging as this one.
And yet she wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts across the United States including Eanes ISD have faced numerous challenges. Teachers and staff members are asked to adjust quickly and often to changing requirements and protocols. In spite of these challenges, the nurses of Eanes ISD continue to hold steady in the storm.
A community of 10 Eanes ISD nurses span across six elementary schools, two middle and one high school. Eanes ISD nurses have taken on more responsibilities including contact tracing for elementary students and all conduct follow-up with positive cases within the district.
Nurse Sansom at BCE shared that recently, she stayed at the school until 10:30 p.m. delivering contact tracing calls to 59 Eanes ISD families. This was the result of just two positive cases.
“I cannot understate the exponential increase in parent communication and tracking,” said Amy Gaither, a nurse at Forest Trail Elementary. “I wish it counted as exercise!”
Regarding positive case reporting, Nurse Holly Hubbell at Westlake High School outlined what a typical morning looks like in her office. Her day starts with contacting all families and students who have notified the school of their symptoms. Once they have followed up with families, the two WHS nurses along with administrators must notify teachers and staff members. According to Hubbell this is often the most demanding part of the process.
“Many days, it takes all day to work through the list,” Hubbell said. “It can be exhausting.”
COVID-19 responsibilities for Eanes ISD nurses are in addition to their regular duties of sight and hearing screenings, scoliosis tests, lice outbreaks and attending to children with chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma.
“All of the usual jobs such as vaccinations, taking care of students, giving medication, writing health plans, doing teacher training for medical reasons are still there,” Nurse Hubbell said. “But this year has been completely different. We hardly see students in our clinic.”
As stated in the Eanes ISD COVID-19 protocol, any student with symptoms at all exemplary of the coronavirus must leave campus immediately. Therefore, students are rarely seen in school clinics.
Leslie Boldrick, a nurse at Bridge Point Elementary, shared how this year’s challenges have strengthened the community of Eanes ISD nurses and staff members.
“All of our different backgrounds just bring different things to the table,” nurse Boldrick said. “We’ve all become very close because we’re all experiencing the same or similar situations.”
Nurse Sansom added that at this time she is thankful for the support from her principal and assistant principal.
“It’s a big team effort,” Sansom said.
Although Eanes ISD nurses are not seeing the same volume of students at the clinic in years past, it can be difficult to separate work from home. A few of the nurses mentioned they are also moms. Each nurse mentioned that maintaining a balance between home and work is sometimes difficult. On days it just feels overwhelming, each nurse mentioned their gratitude for support from their families and coworkers.
“It’s so nice to have a group of nurse friends — people that care,” Gaither said.
Nurse Gaither added that this year has allowed the community to pull back the curtain and truly understand the work of nurses and teachers, and the job of nurses is to protect teachers as much as it is to protect students.
“If someone does get sick, or there’s any spread, I don’t want to have any shred of doubt in my mind that it was because I was not doing my job well,” Nurse Gaither said.
Nurse Boldrick added that part of the challenge this year is seeing kids and teachers miss out on opportunities available to them in a “normal” year. Despite the challenges, all of the nurses are hopeful schools will stay open and stay safe for the remainder of the school year so kids can continue to learn and finish strong.
“It’s not a lost year,” Boldrick said. “These kids are building grit. The fact that teachers were still able to connect with the kids is what’s amazing to me. To be a teacher is challenging in a normal year, but to see teachers connect with them is amazing.”
When asked why they continued to show up each day, each of them glowed at how much they love the work they do in spite of a difficult year. It was clear that in spite of this year, there’s still something exciting about being in school.
“If you’ve never gotten the chance to walk down a Kindergarten hallway, it’s magical,” Nurse Gaither said. “I just feel very lucky to be here.”
Following this year, everyone in our Eanes community will have a pandemic story, one that shares the challenges and experiences we each have faced. In each of their stories, the nurses of Eanes ISD will be able to share how they helped keep the magic alive and well in an unusual year.
“I feel proud of the job that we have done,” Nurse Hubbell said. “I’m glad that I’ve been able to be a part of history, especially as a nurse. It has been a huge, life changing event.”