ECFS Roundtable: Meet Our Indispensable Nursing Team

20 Apr 2021
ByRobin Becker, Assistant Director of Communications, Institutional Engagement

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nursing team has been invaluable in keeping the Ethical Culture Fieldston School community informed, calm, and healthy. The Nursing team played a pivotal role in planning and executing the reopening of the School, and the team has worked tirelessly to maintain a safe and supportive in-person learning experience for ECFS students, faculty, and staff. 

Here, members of the Nursing team join a roundtable discussion about their experiences in this unique year and the many ways in which they have kept our community safe.

What’s a regular day like for you?

Sue Gower, RN, BSN, MSPH, Ethical Culture Nurse: A typical day this year begins with answering early-morning phone calls and emails from parents/guardians and faculty who have concerns related to symptomatic children, COVID-19 testing, quarantine, or exposure to a positive COVID-19 case. This happens in conjunction with running Magnus Health COVID-19 Questionnaire reports to review all of the pre-screening arrival information. This often requires visiting children in the classroom to screen them if the parents or guardians did not fill out the Magnus Health Questionnaire. Consultations with the New York State Department of Health, webinars, and team meetings with our COVID-19 management team to keep up with the ever-changing guidance and science all comprise the top priorities of a day in the life of a school nurse this year. A bonus includes days in which I am able to interact with students to attend to their health-related needs!

Stacey Husted, RN, BSN, Fieldston Lower Nurse: A regular day here at Fieldston Lower starts with me compiling a list of the students whose parents/guardians have forgotten to complete the Magnus Health COVID-19 Questionnaire before sending their child to school. My assistant Kellie Tillinghast and I contact every family to make sure the students are symptom-free and cleared to attend class. The rest of my day is divided between "normal" school nurse activities, such as tending to students with injuries or with chronic health needs, as well as managing the duties of keeping the school community safe during a global pandemic. I monitor attendance and contact families of students who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with those who have symptoms. It is never-ending work to educate the community on the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State Department of Health, as well as updates to school policies. It is a fluid and ever-changing scenario, and all school nurses are at the center of keeping the whole community informed. We are the gatekeepers, making sure that symptomatic students stay home (or are sent home) and get tested for COVID-19, and that their close contacts (such as siblings) stay home as well to reduce the risk to the community. We meet regularly to dissect the latest research, mandates, and recommendations, and to implement policies that keep the community safe while maximizing in-person learning. As my colleague said, "There simply would be no in-person learning without the Nursing team at ECFS."

Stacey Husted, RN, BSN, Fieldston Lower Nurse; and Kellie Tillinghast, Health Office Assistant

Colleen Meehan, RN, ECFS School Nurse Float; Kerri Peyton, RN, Middle and Upper School Nurse; and Ellie Cymrot, Middle and Upper School Medical Technician: Our day starts with reviewing Magnus Health COVID-19 Questionnaire compliance, which ensures the safety of the entire ECFS community. Communicating with families, students, and faculty encompasses a good portion of the day with emails, phone calls, and office visits. Fundamentally, we provide medical care, monitor health and wellness, and ensure the safety and security of our students.

What are your favorite ways to relax or unwind?

Gower: Anyone who knows me well knows that “relax” is not in my vocabulary. I am the ultimate Energizer bunny. That being said, my favorite outside-of-work pursuits are spending lots of time with my granddaughter, baking, and being outdoors engaged in outdoor activities as much as possible.

Husted: I have been enjoying helping people find COVID-19 vaccination appointments, and I have assisted several members of the ECFS community in getting their vaccinations completed (as well as assisting people outside of the ECFS community). 

What are some of the challenges of working as a school nurse?

Gower: The greatest challenge posed this year has been helping families and faculty manage and cope with their anxiety.

Colleen Meehan, RN, ECFS School Nurse Float; Kerri Peyton, RN, Middle and Upper School Nurse; and Ellie Cymrot, Middle and Upper School Medical Technician

Husted: There have always been challenges working as a school nurse, but they pale in comparison to what it means to be a healthcare professional during a global pandemic. Since last year, the Nursing team has been critical in planning the reopening of the School. We have spent countless hours meeting, planning, ordering personal protective equipment (PPE) (hats off to Lori Cohen, Nursing Office Administrative Assistant, for finding a supplier during a PPE shortage), moving our offices, hiring and orienting assistants, educating our colleagues and parents in the community, calming nerves, and bearing the brunt of frustrations from students, parents, and colleagues — the list goes on and on. We are communicating with families and colleagues from early in the morning until late at night. We have been on the frontlines of fighting this disease as public health professionals. 

Meehan, Peyton, and Cymrot: Not knowing what the day will bring. Every day we encounter new and diverse physical, emotional, and social opportunities to ensure that our students are able to learn and meet their challenges in this dynamic and transitional environment.

How do you connect with the school community?

Gower: This year, we connect like everyone else: mostly through email, phone, and virtual visits. As the nurse in the building, I am able to see children and staff in person on a limited basis.

Husted: I am a parent of two Upper School students, so I connect with the community as both a faculty member and as a parent. As a faculty member, I have served as a representative on the Board of Trustees. I am currently volunteering as a parent in planning a fun Field Day for the graduating seniors.

What do you think makes the ECFS community unique?

Gower: Although we are separated by geography, the teamwork and support of my colleagues on the Fieldston campus have allowed us to provide consistent and excellent nursing care and management during this pandemic.  

Sue Gower, RN, BSN, MSPH, Ethical Culture Nurse

Meehan, Peyton, and Cymrot: ECFS's care and concern for all students and employees in regards to social, emotional, and community matters to ensure our founder, Felix Adler's, visions for the School are upheld.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Gower: The reason I am a school nurse is because of the passion I have for taking care of and nurturing children — everything from health and first aid to teaching classes to being a caring adult in their school experience. 

Meehan, Peyton, and Cymrot: Working as a team to collaborate and provide the best possible services to our ECFS community.