With students returning back to school this week for the first time since Covid-19 struck in March, the role of school nurses has become more important than ever. Tara Algerio-Vento, family nurse practitioner at Rockville Centre School District, is rising to meet the time’s most pressing challenges.
Algerio-Vento came to the district in 2008 and is also the school nurse at South Side High School. She oversees the district’s 10 school nurses and provides medical care for staff and students throughout the district.
Now, with health and safety being a top priority for reopening schools, Algerio-Vento has taken a lead role in forming plans to welcome students back. She served on several reopening committees and helped create the district medical plan.
“My role has changed dramatically,” Algerio-Vento said. “We have come up with a medical plan to ensure the safety of staff and students.”
Locating personal protective equipment (PPE) was difficult, she added, “but we did it, and now we’re distributing it district-wide.” Another challenge was dividing nurse’s offices and creating more space for health-related matters in school buildings, which now each have a section for students using nebulizers, for students isolating because they exhibit Covid-related symptoms and a general health area.
“To find two additional spaces that are near the nurse’s offices and have direct ventilation was very tough to do,” Algerio-Vento said. “The principals, nurses and I all worked together to find areas that met those accommodations. We had to shuffle staff around and think outside the box. We had to find supplies — say, a folding cot, so if a child is sick they can lay down. We’ve only ever had that in the nurse's office. So there’s lots of changes.”
In addition to developing health and safety protocols, Algerio-Vento has spent the summer creating educational videos for students. She’s also fielded questions from staff, students and parents via livestreams.
Algerio-Vento recalled steps that she and the district took in March, when coronavirus first forced them to shut down on March 17 and 18, just before New York State mandated that all schools closed indefinitely. She set up an email address for any staff or student to inform the district if they contracted Covid-19. One South Side High School staff member reported testing positive, and the school community quarantined for 14 days.
As students return to school, a challenge will be determining whether symptoms are from a common illness or Covid-19. “How do we differentiate a child with a stomach virus from Covid?” she said. “That's our biggest challenge.”
The thought of students or staff catching the virus could cause anxiety for many, Algerio-Vento noted. Therefore, among the educational materials she’s been distributing to the community are mental health resources. She also held an informational meeting with staff members to explain protocols in more detail, such as daily temperature checks, as well as how contact tracing works if someone becomes ill.
“It’s a lot of uncertainties,” she said, “but with time we will grow comfortable being uncomfortable.”
For more information on Rockville Centre School District’s medical plan, visit rvcschools.org.