Wednesday, May 11 is School Nurse Day. View State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly’s proclamation on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s website.
It is difficult to understate the impact school nurses have not only in our schools, but also in our communities. As medical professionals in their respective schools and districts, school nurses are called upon to ensure the health and safety of students, and help them be safe and ready to learn.
Those responsibilities were amplified the last two years by the COVID-19 pandemic. School nurses have showed dedication and resilience by stepping up and being heroes to their respective communities. School nurses work endless hours and have been part of district leadership teams throughout the pandemic, offering guidance on policies and protocols to keep students, families, staff, and the community safe and healthy.
That astounding commitment to students, families, and communities has been visualized in a new online photo and video exhibit. A Day in the Life: A Photo Essay of the Wisconsin School Nurses and the COVID-19 Pandemic features the stories of nine Wisconsin school nurses. The exhibit, which launches on May 11, 2022, puts the dedication and support they’ve provided to students, families, staff, and their communities into perspective.
Teresa DuChateau, a nurse with a background in public health and pediatrics, took the initiative to create the project. She said that her goal was to produce something meaningful to the school nurses who have faced unprecedented circumstances throughout the last two years.
“The role of school nurses changed significantly, and I thought it was important to capture that…I wanted to be able to contribute to history,” DuChateau said. “I wanted nurses that worked in schools to feel represented during this time. I wanted them to be able to look back decades from now and feel like their contributions were acknowledged.”
DuChateau visited 11 Wisconsin schools in March 2022, capturing the stories of nine school nurses and hearing the challenges they faced at the height of the pandemic.
“The thing that was the most remarkable and moving for me was hearing their stories,” she said. “To hear firsthand what they had gone through and similar themes over and over again…at one point, there were two weeks in a row where I had been traveling around the state visiting the nurses, and I was sitting in my hotel room one evening, downloading the photos from that day and thinking about the sadness and stress the nurses expressed during their interviews. It struck me that it was quite remarkable that these nurses didn’t leave their positions.”
DuChateau said she wanted to capture the emotional stories of nurses in different areas across Wisconsin. She successfully did so in 11 days and over 2,000 miles traveled, visiting Superior, Spring Valley, La Farge, Boscobel, McFarland, Madison, Brown Deer, Glendale, Rosholt, Edgar and Marathon.
“I wanted to show the public that school nurses are important, and I felt it was important to create an opportunity for the public to hear their stories,” she said. “I wanted to humanize what they had been going through and help the public understand the significant role they have had in keeping our schools open and making sure students and staff are safe.”
The project was supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities and project partners, including the Wisconsin Association of School Nurses, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin Nurses Association.