Maryann Kennedy RN, CSN-NJ, is a School Nurse/Health Educator at an Elementary School in New Jersey. Kennedy has been a nurse for almost 30 years and has worked in many different settings from acute care, outpatient oncology, hospice, and now with children in the school setting for the past 5 years. Kennedy states “Becoming a nurse was a great decision and I encourage others to consider this respected profession. I feel fortunate to have always felt both challenged and confident in the knowledge that what I am doing is making a difference in the lives of others. Whether I have been holding the hand of a patient who is leaving this world or helping a young student with the calculation and administration of an insulin bolus/dose before a meal. One thing nurses do well is provide care from the heart with the backing of science. In my role as a school nurse more than any other, listening, empathy, and basic comfort measures can make all the difference in a child’s day.”  

Kennedy received her first messages of concern from parents related to this pandemic in early January. The community had families that were traveling to China concerned about their return. Kennedy assured them to follow all guidelines set forth by the CDC and the state health department. Looking back now, it is clear for Kennedy to see how little was known about COVID 19. The guidance was constantly changing. The challenge became achieving a balance of confidentiality while making sure that the school community was safe when the reality was unknown of just how contagious this new illness was.

Because of the open and honest relationships that the staff and the families in the school that have developed, Kennedy was able to face her fears that this new disease presented, especially to our immunocompromised students and staff. Kennedy states “With the support of the administration, and primarily the principal, we discussed these concerns with our returning families, and they agreed to self-quarantine for 14 days although it was not required by the state health guidelines. These families returned in late January, while guidance from the CDC and state was still evolving.” Kennedy felt fortunate to have cultivated the trust of the parents and cooperation on their part to ease the tension and fears of the school community. Relationship building is key in all areas for nurses to promote the profession and work jointly for the best possible outcomes.

Kennedy states, “One very important collaboration is between the school counselors and school nurses. Prior to COVID 19 we worked together to assist students with concerns ranging from OCD, to school refusal and separation anxiety. We know that the mental health of many of our students will be impacted by the burdens of this pandemic and we will be strong allies in providing reassurance and coping skills to not only these students, but their families and the school staff. A priority for our school district over the past few years has been promoting growth mindset and teaching social emotional learning. The five core competency skills of SEL, are crucial and will continue to be so during these unprecedented times.”

Kennedy’s initial response as a school nurse was to ensure that her more vulnerable families had the resources that they needed and connecting them directly with groups that could help them to obtain assistance within the community. These are challenging times for all children. Everyone is impacted and our society needs to own that. It can be challenging to reassure children when we are in such unprecedented times and there is so much unknown. “What we do know is that working together to support one another and treating each other and ourselves with kindness is crucial for our mental and physical wellbeing,” says Kennedy.

Kennedy states, “As a school nurse, we are often the only healthcare professional in our buildings, but we are never alone. Our network begins within our district, then county, state, national and even international. School nurses working in Switzerland and beyond have shared the protocols they have created to assist in return to school. We are all a team with the health and well being of our school communities being the ultimate goal.”