The Kodiak school district is looking for ways, small and large, to recognize the district’s nurses for National School Nurse Appreciation Day on May 11.

This recognition has come in many forms, such as sending out letters introducing district nurses to families, handwritten cards for school nurses and a free spa-day for Nurse Coordinator Michelle Odlin.

“It’s especially important right now, as we’re coming out of COVID, that we take a moment to thank our nurses,” KIBSD Director of Federal Programs Damon Hargraves said. “These last couple of years, frankly, have been a blur, but we’ve survived it and largely that is due to our nurses. They’re the ones that helped us implement the mandates that we had to implement, and they were often the frontline workers that were working with students and families when they were sick.”

There are eight nurses in the Kodiak Island Borough School District: Odlin, North Star Elementary nurse Amy Cowley, East Elementary nurse Lisa Cooper, Main Elementary nurse Kim Martin, Peterson Elementary nurse Hayley Yawn, Middle School nurse Chloe Nelson, Kodiak High School nurse and Certified Nursing Assistant teacher Megan Kouremetis, and KHS nurse Krystle Dube.

In a normal year, the district nurses treat anything from bee stings to serious injuries; coordinate between parents, students and outside doctors; give lessons on puberty; and conduct regular health screenings, both in town and village schools.

During the pandemic, Odlin and her fellow nurses spent extra time testing students and contract tracing after school, she said. They were also subject to the uncomfortable and unprecedented role of being the “COVID police,” or having to enforce COVID safety protocols, she said.

Odlin personally met weekly as a member of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’s School Health Nurse Advisory Committee, she said. During those meetings, she discussed the status of COVID in schools and came back with information that informed Superintendent Larry LeDoux’s decisions on COVID protocol policies in the district, LeDoux said.

During the toughest times, Odlin got through by reminding herself what was at stake: If an outbreak were to occur in the school district, it could overwhelm the island’s health care infrastructure, she said. Odlin worked for Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center for four years when she first came to the island and said she knows how much work goes into caring for people with serious respiratory illnesses and into medevacing patients. Even though Odlin was not working at the hospital during the pandemic, she had an idea of how much strain COVID was causing the system, she said.

Even though the district has been rolling back on its COVID protocols, their work is far from over, according to Odlin. Now nurses are catching up on work that got pushed aside during the pandemic, like vision tests, following up on students with chronic conditions, and dealing with the day-to-day injuries and illnesses with students. This is a full year’s worth of work that the nurses have been trying to complete during the last two months of the school year, she said.

“In my heart, I just want to make sure that all the nurses in our district are recognized,” Odlin said. “I know how hard they’ve worked this year, the tears they cried and the stress they feel.”

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