Navigating through School During a Pandemic
This year has definitely been a team effort.
I was not at Gulf Stream School or working in a school when the pandemic swept the world, but everyone at GSS (and all over the world) really got a taste of what life was like without any safety protocols or guidance put in place. Everyone had to stay home. As terrible and scary as it was, going 100% virtual was almost a blessing in disguise. We were all navigating through uncharted territory and with the brief (even virtual) glimpse of what it was like schooling through a pandemic, it was vital that we figure out a way to make the 2020-2021 school year successful and safe.
That is when I showed up. I joined GSS in August 2020. Not only was it a challenge to be the first-ever school nurse here at GSS, but then, throwing a pandemic into the mix compounded the difficulty. Unfortunately, they do not prepare you for this sort of stuff in nursing school.
The challenges ahead
I would say the biggest challenge overall was figuring out how to pull off a “normal” school year and bring students and faculty back to in-person learning amidst a pandemic. How could we make this a safe and trustworthy space for families to send their children after we’d been told to stay home for the past six months? There was, no doubt, some hesitancy. We had all been pretty much locked-up in our homes for months, and now suddenly, we were supposed to come back to school as normal, with some modifications, of course.
Below I have listed many of the modifications and guidelines we put in place this year to make our campus a safe place to come to school every day.
GSS Covid-19 Modifications:
- Masks are always worn indoors.
- Masks are worn outside unless social distancing can be achieved.
- Maintaining 6 feet social distancing
- Extra time for handwashing
- Eating lunch outside
- One student per bathroom at a time
- Desks spaced 6 feet apart
- Cohorting grades and teachers to remain in one classroom throughout the day
- Virtual teaching by teachers in another cohort to avoid physical interaction with multiple grades
- Virtual learning option for students and faculty who are at home
- Plexiglass shields placed on all student and teacher desks
- Weekly, pooled PCR Covid-19 Testing
- Daily sanitation of every room
- Plasma Air and REME Halo Air Purification Systems installed throughout the school
- Adding a Nurse Practitioner and nursing suite with an isolation room
- Canceling, reconfiguring, or virtually hosting activities and events
- Limiting PE activities that involve close contact
We did not start our pooled testing program (which has been nerve-wracking at times, but a blessing for us to have) until mid-October. Prior to testing, my biggest challenge, once everyone returned to campus, was, “How do I navigate through illnesses presented in school with the fear of Covid always lingering in the back of my mind?.” But, here we are in May, with summer vacation not too far away. I’d say we’ve done pretty well. Of course, we have not been immune to Covid and have had some cases here and there, but we have successfully avoided in-school transmission, thus far.
Keep in mind, some states and many public schools across the country are still closed or virtual, maybe with a little hybrid action. We have truly been blessed, not only because we have been participating in in-person learning since September, but also because our students have been able to thrive during these challenging times when others have not been so fortunate.
Teamwork and “the new normal”
I want to thank all the families and faculty who have dealt with illnesses and Covid-19 throughout the school year for their transparency. I know how challenging it can be to stay home and take part in virtual learning. But I have learned that without everyone’s cooperation, we would not have had such success. I am the only nurse, but this has not been a one-man job.
All in all, this school year was unlike any other we have ever experienced, but we persevered and are hopeful things will change next year. As the nurse at GSS and a parent, I feel confident that we are in a safe place, and will continue to be. As I am sure you all are, I am very eager and excited to see and participate in all the great things GSS has to offer once things get back to “normal”!
By: Melissa Wynne, MSN, CPNP-PC; School Nurse Practitioner