‘Blessed are the givers:’ Shelton school nurses recognized for efforts during COVID

SHELTON — The city’s school nurses’ dedication and professionalism during the pandemic was formally acknowledged this past week by the city and district.

The nurses themselves recalled the toll the past year has taken on them.

“I get emotional when I look back and think about what this year has mentally and emotionally done to everyone and I'm happy to see things finally turning around,” Adrianna Collins, school nurse supervisor and COVID-19 liaison, told Hearst Connecticut Media on Friday.

Mayor Mark Lauretti praised work that “reached a new level of dedication and professionalism,” deserving of special recognition and read a proclamation at the Board of Education meeting saying so.

The district’s 12 nurses were honored during the school board’s regular meeting, held live once again at the district’s administrative offices, something not done since the onset of the pandemic more than a year ago. Each nurse in attendance received a bouquet of flowers.

Collins recalled how in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the country — but when the schools shut down, Shelton school nurses continued working in the hospital, nursing homes, COVID-19 testing sites and, most recently, vaccination clinics.

“When the new school year began, our school nurses took on unprecedented responsibilities, including contact tracing and symptom screening and ensuring that pre-pandemic duties, like administering a child's routine medications, happen safely,” Collins said.

School nurses’ roles in the pandemic increased day by day, according to Collins, as they began working around the clock with administration enforcing quarantine regulations for students who were out sick and calling the families who might have been exposed and quarantining classrooms when necessary.

Collins’ role as COVID liaison became a 24-hour 7-day a week position, she said. She would spend most of her day and evening consulting and educating families and staff on procedures for the district.

“Myself as well as the nursing staff have established close relationships with our administration which have fully supported us along the way as well as the staff at Naugatuck Valley Health to ensure open lines of communication within the district and the continuity of care throughout the Valley,” Collins said.

“Blessed are the givers … and grateful are the receivers,” Lauretti said last week, reading from a proclamation — read as part of National Nurses Months — presented in honor of the nurses. “Your contributions have not gone unrecognized as the city appreciates your hard work in keeping our students and staff healthy and safer from COVID-19.”

“The key word about school nurses is ‘indispensable’ — now more than ever,” Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish said. “When I think of all they do throughout the day, I wonder how they manage to keep smiling and get the job done. Not only do they take temperatures, apply bandages, stop bloody noses, dispense required meds, provide a change of clothes and soothe those nervous bellyaches, they provide hugs and soothing words of comfort as well as sympathetic ears for listening to concerns.”

Yolish said during the difficult times of social emotional concerns because of the pandemic, the school nurse has an added job of helping kids and adult staff cope and providing assurances as well as compassion on a daily basis.

“They let everyone know that things are going to be all right. I cannot emphasize how valued and appreciated our school nurses are — now more than ever,” Yolish said.

In addition to Collins, the district’s nurses are Melissa Dos Santos and Bridgette Cordova, from Shelton High; Theresa Hellauer and Noelene Peterson, from Shelton Intermediate School; Lauren Reynolds and Karen Kellogg, from Perry Hill School; and elementary school nurses Stephanie Elliot at Sunnyside, Judy Lambert at Elizabeth Shelton, Jessica Scimanna at Booth Hill, Karen Chappa at Long Hill and Briana Workman at Holy Trinity Catholic Academy.

“Our Shelton Public Schools nursing staff has always been a vital part of our school environment,” Superintendent Ken Saranich said.

“During this pandemic, they have stood out for their dedication, patience, guidance and kindness,” he said. “Their willingness to work the front lines and to keep our Shelton School families safe and well has reminded us of all of the value they add to our community.”

Lauretti’s proclamation stated school nurses are essential in normal times, but the onset of the pandemic made their jobs even more vital.

“The hours you devoted to handling contact tracing, answering many questions and volunteering to get the staff of our public schools vaccinated has made a huge difference in the lives of our children, their families and your co-workers,” Lauretti said.

“This year was not easy for anyone, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Collins said. “As vaccine rollout picked up, we sketched out the logistics of our school-based sites to vaccinate our teachers and staff and moved forward with immunization clinics for our students and the community.

“It is such a great feeling to finally see the many months of hard work and perseverance by our nurses, teachers and staff finally paid off,” Collins said. “We made it through a pandemic.”