Edina Public Schools Health Services Staff
April 2022 – With an enrollment topping 8,000, Edina Public Schools is one of the largest K-12 systems in the state. The district maintains a proportionally large staff. In addition to teachers, who are so visibly the “face” of our schools, this includes a small army of coaches, bus drivers, custodians, administrators and nurses. Across its dozen schools, EPS leans on the passion and expertise of no fewer than 25 licensed school nurses (LSNs) and health service associates (HSAs).
Even in a normal year, school nurses manage a full docket. In addition to first aid and triage duties, they can be found conducting hearing and vision screenings, educating parents about dental hygiene and immunizations, and carrying out many other proactive measures to achieve the district’s health and wellness goals.
“I see the role of school nurses as removing barriers to accessing education,” explained Anna Sonday, an RN/LSN based at the Early Learning Center. “We bridge the gap between education and healthcare by explaining to families and teachers how health issues can prevent students from making progress on their educational goals.”
Needless to say, the past several academic years have been anything but normal. COVID-19 added an altogether new dimension to this work.
“Starting in March 2020, we all began doing way more – basically working around the clock,” recalled Edina High School RN/LSN Gretchen Gosh. “I don’t think it was ever a stated expectation that the team work more. We just did, because the safety of the kids is always at the forefront of our minds.”
Among the many responsibilities that sprouted up for nursing staff virtually overnight, none proved as time consuming as the tracking of symptomatic students (and their respective quarantine periods).
“Initially, if we had a positive case at the Early Learning Center and the student was on site during their infectious period, we were shutting down that classroom for 14 days,” Sonday shared. Compounding matters, “impacted staff members were not available to work in other classrooms, because they, too, were in quarantine.”
While older students are better able to mask and distance, LSNs and HSAs embedded in Edina’s middle and high schools had it no easier. “It is extremely laborious … Students at Edina High School have seven classes a day. One positive student could create more than 50 close contacts … at least as close contacts [were originally] defined,” Gosh said.
“As more became known, and as variants changed, mitigation strategies also changed,” noted Heidi Youngdahl, RN/HSA at Highlands Elementary School. Evolving guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health allowed for shortened quarantine windows and a more limited definition of who is considered an at-risk “close contact” of a COVID-positive student. Now, everything from proximity and length of contact, to vaccination status, to the presence or absence of masks factors into nurses’ decision-making around whether to isolate a child.
Even a cursory look at the numbers underscores the herculean nature of the undertaking. As of March 30, Edina Public Schools had recorded 1,788 infections this school year – on top of 624 total cases the preceding academic year.
Even as contract tracing became an ever-more nuanced responsibility, Health Services staff stretched themselves in other ways, as well. “We’ve had more community vaccine clinics than I can count. While we’ve always valued and advocated for immunizations, this was new for the nursing staff,” said Gosh.
“We’ve also [introduced] on-site COVID testing for staff, students and students’ family members,” added Sonday. “I think this has made a big difference in slowing community spread.”
Moreover, the usual litany of day-to-day health concerns has not gone away. “Masks are optional now, and so we’re seeing an uptick in other illnesses,” noted Youngdahl. “If someone has a symptom, these days there’s a good chance it’s something [other] than COVID.”
While their workload is unlikely to abate any time soon, Youngdahl is confident that the EPS Health Services team is up to the challenge. They know just how crucial the work is. “Taking care of children is not just about the education; there are social, emotional and physical pieces to that puzzle as well. We rely on the teachers, and teachers rely on us.”
2022 EPS HEALTH SERVICES STAFF
LSNs (Licensed School Nurses)
- Cesley Bergsten, Normandale Elementary
- Beth Gissibl, Edina High School
- Gretchen Gosh, Edina High School
- Kim Guettler, Concord and Countryside Elementary
- Laci Haviland, Highlands and Creek Valley Elementary
- Stephanie Janasko, Cornelia Elementary
- Anne Lindquist, Valley View Middle School
- Ann Little, Cornelia Elementary
- Nicole Polk Singer, South View Middle School
- Anna Sonday, Early Childhood Center
HSAs (Health Services Associates)
- Christina Anderson (substitute)
- Janine Baker, Countryside Elementary
- Leslie Bourgeault, Cornelia Elementary
- Miriam Campbell, Creek Valley Elementary
- Donna Dyson, Edina High School
- Alyssa Hentges, South View Middle School
- Anne Jennen, Early Childhood Center
- Annika Joy (substitute)
- Sheri Kyllo, Normandale Elementary
- Deb Link, Edina High School
- Sasha Rickerd, Concord Elementary
- Denise Smith, South View Middle School
- Jen Smith, Valley View Middle School
- Lisa Ungerman (substitute)
- Heidi Youngdahl, Highlands Elementary