“Whatever I came to work with, I dust my feet off and I come in with a cheerful spirit, and the day will go well,” said Elyse Williams, a school nurse at PS 28 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “I’m here to give care, and that’s the most important thing to me.”
Williams and her colleagues in the UFT School Nurses Chapter gathered for their annual recognition dinner at union headquarters in Manhattan on May 8.
The school nurses celebrated each other, their union and their mission of compassionate caring for the students in New York City public schools. “A nurse is a nurse is a nurse. In New York City, we do all the things they do in hospitals,” said Chapter Leader Cynthia Bennett, a school nurse at IS 77 in Ridgewood, Queens.
Ponzella Johnson of CS 154 in Harlem said school nurses are an integral part of the team that provides health services in schools. She wants to dispel the notion that school nurses “are about putting Band-Aids on booboos and giving out lollipops. We have diabetics and kids with cardiac conditions, and mental health is off the charts now, too.”
Johnson said she chooses to work in a school that needs a lot of nursing services. “And we’re making a difference,” she said.
LeRoy Barr, the UFT’s assistant secretary and staff director, talked about the history of the UFT and its strength in numbers. “There is no difference between being a nurse and being an activist,” he said. “Organize, speak up, fight back.”
“When we come together we can move mountains,” added Williams.
Bennett expressed how proud she was of members who came out in full force “on the coldest day of the year so we could ratify our contract.”
She gave a shoutout to Neal Costigan of PS 126 in Manhattan’s Chinatown for having perfect attendance at this year’s School Nurses Chapter meetings and urged members to make a commitment to start with one meeting. “This is your job, these are your benefits, these are all the things you’re concerned about,” she said.
The group also recognized one of the attendees, Dorothy A. Kelen of PS 78 in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx, who is retiring after 21 years of service.
Williams, like many of her colleagues, is part educator, too, often going into classrooms to teach students how to manage their own medical regimens or how to use EpiPens or sanitary practices such as hand-washing.
“We’re here to take care of the students, nourish them and bring them to well-being,” Williams said. “That’s what I love about school nursing.”