Winter: working towards a new normal
March 30, 2021
Covid demands impact school nurses
Nursing at Central and beyond stretches into the frontlines of healthcare work.
By Jack Deminski
With a soft creak, the heavy door to the 9/10 nurse’s office swings open. Jennifer Amato, the Sophomore Nurse at Hunterdon Central, enters the dreary office and lets the door ease shut behind her. It could’ve been just like any other start to the day, but Mrs. Amato knew it wouldn’t be. She glances back at the door, thinking how it used to open and close hundreds of times a day, just like that.
Today, that door would only open and close a couple dozen times. “The amount of students that stop by nowadays is considerably less than what it used to be,” Mrs. Amato says. It’s a concept that saddens her, but there isn’t much to be done about it.
2020’s COVID-19 pandemic has been a gateway to all sorts of challenges. Social distancing and constant mask-wearing have become a part of everyone’s lives. But as a school nurse of Hunterdon Central, Jennifer Amato has to endure much more than that.
At the beginning of the year, the nurse’s office received many more student visitors. Nonetheless, these students only visited to get temperature checks required by the school in order to attend in-person hybrid schedule learning. Parents have now gotten into the routine of filling out the school-distributed student health screening form every day their child attends in-person.
“We only see around 40 kids a day,” Mrs. Amato says. “For example, today in this office we saw 26, in the other office we saw 28.”
Without students to work with, much of the work school nurses perform revolves heavily around contact tracing, assessing symptoms, making phone calls to parents, and even keeping track of attendance.
“My job has changed from school nursing to public health nursing,” Mrs. Amato says. “It’s less nursing per say and more public health work.” While most of this work is done during school hours, it is common for school nurses to get additional work done at home.
Dr. Jeffrey Moore, Hunterdon Central High School Superintendent, says the school chooses to pay nurses extra when completing work off hours. “We weren’t expecting to be doing this much contact tracing ourselves. At first we were in touch with the department of health, but over the past month or so we’ve had to do a lot of it ourselves,” he said.
Hunterdon Central nurses aren’t the only staff that have been pushed to the front lines in health care work. Other school nurses across the country have been struggling to keep up with their newfound tasks and responsibilities.
But to make matters worse, a study by the Education Law Center found that roughly 300 schools don’t have a nurse. Nurse shortages such as this have caused schools to raise their student-to-nurse ratio above the national standard of 1 nurse to 750 students. Additionally, many school nurses have expressed frustration with certain procedures their schools have taken during the pandemic that put staff and students in harm’s way, such as a lack of resources to keep the schools sanitary. School nursing has always consisted of tending to students and assessing factors such as potential child abuse or mistreatment, and now many school nurses now find themselves being looked up to by their fellow staff for guidance and assistance in terms of health and safety.
My job has changed from school nursing to public health nursing”
— Ms. Jen Amato
“The nurses are really helpful for us in the front line and in a lot of the work we have to do to keep everyone safe,” Dr. Moore says. “We rely on them to give us good information on the latest symptoms and concerns and to stay in touch with other nurses in the county and hospitals. I’m just really appreciative of all that they do, they’ve been a big part of all that.”
Due to the overwhelming responsibilities school nurses have taken, Hunterdon Central takes advantage of the Employee Assistance Program to help supply staff with optional wellness counseling and therapy sessions. Workshops that help with mindfulness, breathing exercises, and yoga have also been provided.
“The workshops have been popular, but the EAP is confidential,” Dr. Moore says. “We want people to feel free to use EAP without any worry of embarrassment — and they shouldn’t, it’s a good tool.”
Nurses and other staff of Hunterdon Central aren’t the only part of the high school who practice mental health nowadays. “Before Covid, we would have students come in for all sorts of reasons,” Mrs. Amato says. “A mental health break, just to visit to say hi, to rest from a bad day. We’re not seeing any of that anymore. Students are opting to stay more in class and seek other avenues for mental health.”
Mrs. Amato reminisces about the past often, back when the nurse’s office door would open and close more than just a couple dozen times a day. “I do miss seeing the kids,” she says. “I think hybrid schedules are a good compromise to have kids in school, but now it’s only on an emergent basis where I see kids.”
Despite it all, Mrs. Amato still puts in the effort to remind all the students she cares for to continue wearing masks and following other health guidelines. It’s with the hope of beating COVID-19, and being able to see those heavy office doors open the way they used to again, that Mrs. Amato and other school nurses persevere.
Hunterdon Central Plans For a Vaccinated Future
Who gets the vaccine and when may change the school environment.
Maximilian Sleczka, Duncan Abbott, Zack Hoyvald, Grace Greenwald, and Chuck Cowart
How has virtual school changed our snow days?
Have snow days become a thing of the past?
By Kristina Adamo and Amaya Salazar
As we get adjusted to our virtual learning during the winter, the question of if snow days will remain the way we know them has crossed many students’ minds. For many years snow days meant sleeping in and having a relaxed day to take a break and enjoy the weather, but now they could mean waking up at 7:00 am and attending online class. There are many reasons why this could be beneficial but does the bad outweigh the good?
Hunterdon Central prioritizes students learning and well-being. Dr. Moore, HC’s superintendent, shares how they determine whether to call a virtual or normal snow day. “As far as on any given day the decision to do a full closure versus a remote day, that was based on whatever the situation was during the day,” he said. So if the snow were to be detrimental to power, or left effects that needed to be fixed, then the day would be given off so that students and families can deal with the effects of the snow.
Whether it’s a zoom call or you’re doing work, if the snow is coming down outside, I’m sure that’s a distraction”
— Dr. Jeffrey Moore, Superintendent
The real question was when learning during a virtual snow day are students too distracted to learn. No matter what age and grade, distraction can get the best of you when learning. So when there’s snow outside the temptation to be daydreaming instead of doing algebra, can be overpowering.
According to Dr, Moore distraction during a snow day is inevitable. “Whether it’s a zoom call or you’re doing work, if the snow is coming down outside, I’m sure that’s a distraction,” he said. With or without a virtual day, snow days are still distracting to students.
We asked a freshman to see how it felt as a student to be missing out on the snow, during these virtual days. The student interviewed expressed his feelings about online snow days, “It gets me distracted and it just makes me wonder why am I here, why can’t I just be going out in the snow,” he said. If virtual days in general are hard to focus on, can missing just one day for snow be detrimental to our learning for the week?
This year Hunterdon Central is doing half days for the time being no matter what type of learning you do, in person or online. Because of this change, things like delayed openings and early dismissals are not plausible. This creates a difficult situation because since the only way for students to have a snow day would be to take the whole day off, the school would have to take days off of students’ mandatory breaks for holidays and weather.
Dr Moore says that he was prioritizing the time students get off to celebrate holidays or spend time with family and friends, “I wanted to make sure that we could still preserve, if it was safe and we could pull it off, we could still preserve the days off that we have for everybody when the weather is warmer,” he said.
Overall schools are changing, whether you’re virtually learning through zoom, or socially distancing in classrooms things are new and changing fast. A freshman student expressed an overall feeling about what is happening virtually, “It doesn’t seem right or ideal, but again it’s the way things are going to work,” he said.
This student was not alone in the way he felt about this new online learning.