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Beacon nurses recognized for their work during COVID with South Bend Community Schools

Page Dewald RN, center, is pictured with Washington High School Principal Thomas Sims.

Throughout the pandemic, Page Dewald has usually been the first staff member at Washington High School to address possible COVID-19 infections and provide support to these students and their families. She produced weekly updates and safety tips to staff and students, provided nutritional guidelines for immune system boosting, kept everyone updated on mandates requirements and testing procedures and sites.

The biggest challenges for Jenn Sailors has been keeping well and sick Riley High School students and staff separated, contact tracing for COVID and keeping track of who was out with what ailment. She rearranged things so students who felt sick entered her office through one door, those who were well but needed her assistance used another door, and those suspected of COVID were taken to an isolation room.

Working as a school nurse entails much more than putting Band-Aids on cuts and bruises that happen on the playground. During a typical year, Dewald, Sailors and 26 other Beacon Health System nurses who work in the buildings of South Bend Community Schools, manage the chronic health conditions of students and staff, respond to emergencies and more.

But we all know 2020 was anything but typical.

“This year has been especially demanding on our nurses because of COVID,” says Sue Cullen, BSN, RN, Beacon’s School Nurse Manager. “Assessing students with symptoms, communicating with parents about their student or how they were dealing with COVID in their home, contract tracing and calling all of those parents, and reporting to the state. All these things were in addition to administering medications, managing students with chronic diseases, caring for sick and injured students, and the mounds of paperwork that goes along with it.”

Jenn Sailors, RN, at Riley High School.

For this reason, the awards committees of Riley and Washington honored Sailors and Dewald with the prestigious “Employee of the Year” award. It marked the second time Dewald received the recognition at Washington.

“Nurse Dewald worked closely with me and my team this year to develop processes and procedures to ensure the health and safety of students and staff entering into our campus,” Washington Principal Thomas Sims said. “In what must be an exhaustive occupation, she still remains upbeat, positive and impressively attentive to every person she connects with. She is a true hero to our school and is an incredible caregiver to all. We are most fortunate to have her.”

Riley Principal Shawn Henderson similarly complimented Sailors for her dedication and passion.

“From the start of the pandemic, Mrs. Sailors has been a wealth of knowledge and support for our students and staff. In regard to contact tracing – she would walk into the classrooms, look at seating charts and student attendance records and make a decision to send a student home or keep them on campus,” Principal Henderson said. “Mrs. Sailors is an advocate for students’ success in health and in the classroom. I appreciate that she is willing to go over and above. We are honored to have her at Riley High School.”

Sailors believes some people have misconceptions about the school nurse’s office.

“There are many who still have the old stereotypical idea of a grouchy old lady sitting behind the desk. With everything from compound fractures to seizures and allergic reactions that require ambulatory assistance, to countless illnesses and injuries, you never quite know what may walk through your door,” says Sailors, who is responsible for 1,100 students and staff at Riley. “Then the pandemic changed the way we handle everything.”

Dewald, who has worked as a nurse for 38 years, describes the demands increasing for additional education and support for the school community with the arrival of COVID. Washington administrators created support teams to compile and disseminate information and updates to students, families and staff by email while eLearning was in practice.

“COVID education, social-emotional learning tips and motivational videos were sent weekly and continued through the end of the school year,” Dewald said. “Washington High School is actually like a second home to me. We love together, cry together and stay together. We are a family and I wouldn’t want to be in any other role than that of a school nurse here.”

About Heidi Prescott-Wieneke