School nurses go above the call of duty
Krystall Schmitt and Glenda Olsen — Canby Public Schools
When it comes to keeping students and faculty safe and healthy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, school nurses across the country have taken on responsibilities far beyond the call of duty during an ordinary school year.
Anything but ordinary, in fact, the 2020-21 school year has been a whirlwind for school nurses like Krystall Schmitt and Glenda Olsen of Canby Public Schools, who have met these added challenges head on in spite of ever-evolving restrictions and guidelines.
Schmitt and Olsen are both Canby natives and take great pride in the work they do at the Elementary and High Schools respectively. Olsen manages grades 7-12, while Schmitt is in charge of Pre K-6th grade students while also helping to oversee the high school. Together, they’ve formed a tight bond that has allowed them to work cohesively in tackling issues involving COVID-19.
“She’s been the high school nurse for quite a while, so she does a great job of managing what needs to be done over there,” said Schmitt. “We continue to work together on COVID related things and contact tracing.”
Olsen says the two are in constant contact making sure they’re on the same page.
“We’re on the phone together a lot or email and always checking to make sure we’re both on the same wave and doing the same things,” said Olsen. So, we stay pretty close in touch.”
Olsen arrived at the Canby School District in the fall of 1997 after previously working for the Canby Developmental Achievement Center which provides training and activities for disabled individuals. Having graduated from Canby High School, Olsen enjoys seeing familiar faces and names come through the school
“It’s just kind of fun to see a lot of the kids I maybe graduated with parents, maybe even grandparents for some of them,” said Olsen. “You kind of continue to get to know the family better and you know them from when they were maybe little and then of course then I get to see them as they go through high school.”
Schmitt is also a Canby High School grad and arrived to the school district in 2013 after spending a few years as a nurse at CCM Health Hospital in Montevideo. Her path to becoming a school nurse was a bit unexpected, as her initial goal was to become a Neonatal Intensive Care nurse. Her plans changed when she discovered an opening for the Canby Elementary School nursing position. With her kids already attending school in the Canby School District, the opportunity was one she couldn’t pass up.
“I became a young mother and have a lot of family in the Canby area, and the idea of moving away for work didn’t feel right,” said Schmitt. “When I was offered the job, I was very excited to be able to work in the same district where my kids were going to school and to be able to work with kids from the community every day.”
Though it wasn’t part of her original plan, the position has been a perfect fit for Schmitt.
“I feel becoming a school nurse was more of a calling than a job opportunity for me,” said Schmitt. “Children are my favorite patients so being a school nurse is a natural fit for me. I love forming relationships with the students I see in my office and then being able to carry that over into when I see them in the community.”
This school year, Schmitt has taken on the difficult role of being the Canby School District’s COVID Coordinator in charge of handling many different aspects of containing and monitoring the virus in the Canby schools systems. Trying to find a balance between carrying out her typical duties of being a school nurse and the added responsibilities in her new role was a challenge for Schmitt but has gotten better as time’s gone on.
“The biggest challenge for me was trying to find a balance between all things COVID-19 and the everyday “school nurse” duties. The staff have stepped up in terms of handling a lot of the minor things that I would normally see in my office like small paper cuts and teeth falling out so it allowed me more time to focus on COVID–answering questions from parents and staff and assessing students as they came in with any symptoms,” said Schmitt.
In uncharted territory with no past experience to draw on, the protocol in dealing with COVID has evolved over time for Schmitt and Olsen.
“It definitely felt like we were building the ship as we sailed it because we have never dealt with anything like this before and it seemed like things changed every day with COVID-19,” said Schmitt. “I will never forget our first COVID positive case we had at school and how different the contact tracing looked that first time compared to how that process looks now. I wouldn’t say we’ve mastered our system, but our “COVID system” seems to work well for us and is a part of how we’ve successfully been able to be in-person so far this year.”
Though the Canby school system has been able to maintain in-person learning throughout the school year, challenges involving diagnosis and dealing with potential cases on a student to student basis has been one of the bigger challenges, according to Olsen.
“The hardest part is if kids have a couple of symptoms, whether we think it’s just something general or allergies or whichever the case may be, if it’s some of the symptoms, two of the less common or one of the more common symptoms, unfortunately we have to have them get tested and that’s not always the easiest thing to have to tell kids,” said Olsen. “You have to go do this and tell parents they have to be out until the test results come back, and plus the siblings you know so it’s not just that one person that’s involved.”
Schmitt and Olsen remain diligent in their work preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the Canby School District as the country slowly but surely continues to open up more with three vaccines continuing to be administered. Though the process has been trying, Schmitt says she has learned a lot throughout the pandemic.
“I learned to have grace – not only for others but most importantly for myself,” said Schmitt. “There was a turning point in mid-November that I finally told myself that I cannot control the situation or the actions of other people and that I can only handle each COVID situation as it was presented to me. Prior to that moment, I had taken my job very personally.”
“I was on the receiving end of a lot of anger and frustration especially when we had to make the call to a parent to let them know their child was required to quarantine due to being identified as a close contact,” she added. “Deep down I knew I was just doing what I was trained to do and following the guidelines in order to keep our students and staff safe.”
From all of the hardships and hurdles along the way, Schmitt says there are positives to be gleaned.
“We are all capable of doing hard things, we can be innovative, and students are resilient,” said Schmitt. “The students have done an amazing job of adjusting to the mask regulations and all of the other guidelines that came along with COVID. The staff at school has been able to push through, even on the days when we had a lot of staff out with no one to fill the spot for the day. The students continue to come to school excited for the day despite having to wear a mask and be socially distanced.”
“This last year and dealing with COVID has reminded me of how important the things are in life that a lot of us have taken for granted,” Schmitt added.