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A tale from Ponzella Johnson, school nurse

Harriet Tubman Learning Center in Harlem
New York Teacher

My greatest challenge this school year has been making sure my school community was able to keep safe.

I knew that it was essential for classroom teachers and support staff to have easy access to first-aid items because they had to remain contained with their group. In September, I created an emergency first-aid bag for each classroom and COVID-19 building response team member, including gloves, gauze, bandages, adult and children’s face masks, face shields, an infrared thermometer, tissues and brown bags to store masks during lunchtime.

Students coming to my office on the spur of the moment for minor scrapes or medical concerns is ill-advised, as potentially COVID-positive students could be in close proximity. That’s why teachers are now required to call the medical room before sending any student to be assessed. So far, the plan has been working well.

The necessary closing of schools at different times this year, while challenging, has not stopped me from maintaining contact with our students and their families. Some students are dealing with asthma, diabetes, ADHD and anaphylaxis to foods and products. I keep in touch with remote students by calling them on a regular basis to make sure they are safe and to remind them to take their medications. I also call parents to reassure them during this stressful time.

I have taped videos about the importance of wearing a mask, washing our hands and keeping socially distant. The videos are shared during our school’s virtual town hall, which we hold the first Friday of every month.

In January, school nurses were offered the opportunity to work at the city’s COVID-19 vaccination sites. I worked 13 hours the first day at the site on the Wadleigh MS/HS campus in Harlem. I greeted people outside, escorted those with a cane or walker inside to sit down, and monitored people for any reactions after they were vaccinated. It was fulfilling and exhilarating to help so many elderly people get the vaccine that day. It was about the quality of their lives and the extension of life. The city’s vaccine ran out about a week later, but I felt the enormity of what had happened.

— As told to reporter Linda Ocasio