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June 1, 2020
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Guilford Lakes School Nurse Maggi Paulsen has always been willing to be on the front line of service to those in need. Here, she holds up message to students for her part in a recent video slideshow put together by a Guilford Lakes School teacher, sharing photos and messages from all staff members to send to students. Photo courtesy of Maggi Paulsen

Guilford Lakes School Nurse Maggi Paulsen has always been willing to be on the front line of service to those in need. Here, she holds up message to students for her part in a recent video slideshow put together by a Guilford Lakes School teacher, sharing photos and messages from all staff members to send to students. (Photo courtesy of Maggi Paulsen )

A Heart for Nursing at Guilford Lakes

Published April 29, 2020 • Last Updated 04:06 p.m., April 29, 2020

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School facilities may be closed indefinitely, but Guilford Lakes School (GLS) Nurse Maggi Paulsen’s love and concern for the kids in her care hasn’t left the building.

As Pam Neleber, Guilford Public Schools (GPS) Health Services coordinator points out, “Maggi has been working at GLS since 2007 and has cared for thousands of Guilford’s children. She is a local hero!”

Although COVID-19 has shuttered school buildings, school nurses are hard at work just the same, although some aspects are very different. For example, Maggi’s week started with virtual GLS crisis team meeting, where part of the discussion was setting up guidelines and next steps to take if there’s a diagnosed COVID-19 illness or death that’s related to school staff or student families.

When GPS closed school buildings on March 13, the nation was still working to ramp up COVID-19 testing. Like most school nurses, Maggi can now look back at the period leading up to the closures and say she saw a spike in kids complaining about respiratory issues or children coming to her in need of their inhalers, as well as some who went on to be diagnosed with pneumonia.

“We also saw a lot of pneumonia last year [2019] and bronchitis. If they were tested, would it have shown it was the virus? It’s hard to say,” Maggi says. “I think it took some time for people to really take notice and take it seriously, but looking back at the visits of the children who had come into our office, I feel that it has probably been around a little bit longer than they realized.”

Maggi has always been willing to be on the front line of service to those in need. She came to GLS in 2007 with years of nursing experience, including hospital nursing, community nursing in a low-income district, and in shoreline pediatric/maternal-newborn care as a visiting nurse.

In addition to overseeing the GLS’s elementary student population, Maggi is also responsible for organizing and implementing the health needs of the entire GPS pre-K population, as well as all GPS pre-K to 4 special needs students with medical requirements. She’s grateful to have the assistance of GLS School Nurse Taylor Erickson, who was recently hired by the district to help Maggi manage all of the programs.

“This account this year has doubled, for a variety of reasons. It’s been extremely busy, and it’s been a godsend to have assistance,” says Maggi, who is currently working from home to process the multitude of medical forms and other requirements involved in organizing each student’s medical records.

Another part of a school nurse’s job involves being updated on the profession’s latest protocols, practices, and programs—many of them now tied to the pandemic.

“I sometimes have to take breaks through the day because I feel like all I’m doing all day is watching webinars and virtual meetings. It gets a bit draining,” says Maggi.

Maggi is grateful to also be in contact, albeit virtually, with her nursing and health care professional peers of the GPS community. Everyone is missing their time working with students at their school buildings, she says, including herself and Erickson.

“Taylor and I love what we’re doing. We miss the kids,” says Maggi.

She recently shared that message by holding up a Valentine-style “I Miss You” sign, surrounded by some tools of her trade, in a video slideshow put together by a GLS teacher, sharing photos and messages from all staff members to send to students.

Maggi’s heart also goes out to the families of children she works with who may be at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.

“We have children with significant impaired immune systems, and those with physical [impairments] with compromised immune systems, so they’re more vulnerable. They’re the ones I particularly worry about,” says Maggi.

In addition, Maggi feels the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 may have a lingering impact on the wellbeing of many of the districts’ youngest students.

“As a professional, every day I think about how anxious the families must be to not know the answers,” she says. “The parents are uneasy, and the children are picking up on that.”

One of the unknowns is simply when kids will be returning to familiar structures, schedules, and interactions they can rely on, such as a day at school.

“Typically for them, there’s a definitive time frame, a schedule,” says Maggi. “So it’s very hard for them to understand this whole process. They just want to know why they can’t be playing with their friends or seeing their classmates. It’s really difficult to explain to them accurately, but not scare them, about what’s going on.”

Maggi says that parents can find some good information, resources and support at the GPS website www.guilfordschools.org—;search under District; then Health Services, Coronavirus Disease information; and then go to “Resources and Support for Children and Families During These Difficult Times.”

As a school nurse who assists children with special needs, Maggi is also concerned about the affects that a loss of daily school structure and interaction is having on those children.

“The children in our special needs program thrive on consistency and schedules and the contact and the warmth of the para[professionals] who work with them one-on-one at school, and we have a phenomenal team of paras at Lakes,” says Maggi. “So it’s difficult for them, and that’s then expressed in their behaviors, which can be really difficult for their families to manage 24/7.”

Going Back to School, Safely

Whether at home or at school, for Maggi (and possibly every school nurse on the planet), the most important self-care practice a child can learn is hand washing.

“It’s the first line of defense. Whether it’s this coronavirus or it’s the common cold, we don’t want to get sick, and that’s the best way to protect ourselves,” she says. “I spend a good deal of time during the day actually washing hands with them, trying to get them to understand the best way to do it. A lot of them think turning on the water and flicking your hands underneath it is washing your hands! I try to make it fun, [like] singing the alphabet song, so they get the proper length of time they need.”

While school buildings are still closed indefinitely, when they finally re-open to welcome back students and staff, Maggi anticipates many new protocols and practices will be in place. The district is continuing to work closely with the town’s health department and the state commissioner of education, guided by the governor’s executive orders to determine the best way to keep children safe, she says.

As a school nurse, Maggi’s focus will include ensuring proper protocols are in place to support the health of the school’s population. That will include aspects such as monitoring temperatures and conducting screening surveys, reinforcing hygiene safety practices, and communicating needs and practices with families. Her expectation is school buildings will look a bit different, with classrooms and other spaces set up for safe social distancing. She anticipates schools will also need to set up a physical area for isolation of anyone who may display symptoms. Additionally, buildings will need to be supplied with the proper type and amount of personal protective equipment.

“When we go back, I think there are going to be a lot of changes [that] are going to require a lot of time and a lot of manpower,” Maggi says. “It’s something we’re meeting on and talking about. It’s going to take a team effort. That’s what’s been really nice at Guilford Lakes. It’s a team effort and always has been, so the changes can be absorbed and we can move forward.”

For the safety of every school community, when schools do re-open, Maggi truly hopes parents and guardians will be vigilant about keeping their kids home if they have a temperature or other symptoms of illness.

“It’s something that needs to be communicated to help parents understand this is something we have to take very, very seriously. It’s a killer virus. Families that have lost folks to this have been through too much not to take this seriously,” says Maggi.

Maggi understands how hard it is to have a job and raise kids—she worked part-time while raising her three children, now professionals with kids of their own (Maggi has seven grandchildren, all ages 5 and under).

“I know parents have to be at work, but it’s going to be critical. If your child has a temperature, keep them home,” she says. “Most viruses take up to 24 to 48 hours to shed from the body, where the child is not contagious anymore. If parents want to cut that short and send them in the next day, that’s how things spread around.”


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