Dorey Demers spent Tuesday morning sitting and talking with a group of fifth graders.
“It was a space for, you know, talking about COVID and how they were feeling about it and asking questions,” she said.
For Demers, Milton Town School District’s COVID-19 coordinator and middle school nurse, this is one of the most rewarding and important parts of her day.
“I truly believe that in order for students to receive their education fully, they have to be healthy and wellness needs to be on the forefront,” she said.
Demers graduated from Milton High School in 2005 and pursued her nursing degree at the University of Vermont. In 2016, she returned to the district to accept the position of the middle school nurse.
Now, Demers splits her time between caring for students and combing through the latest pandemic guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education.
The Independent spoke with Demers earlier this week over Zoom about the demands of her job and what makes her hopeful for the future.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background. What did you do before this job? Why did you want to be a school nurse?
A: I worked at the Vermont Department of Health for about five years, and I primarily worked in school health and chronic disease prevention. I also worked in epidemiology, so I did some disease investigation. After that, I did a little bit of hospital prevention work where I worked at UVM Medical Center in their wellness program.
And then a job came open at Milton, and I graduated from Milton, and through my work in prevention I learned so much about how much school nurses do and how much they're needed.
Q: How did you come to be the district’s COVID-19 coordinator and what does the job entail?
A: The state guidance recommends that all schools have a COVID coordinator to help establish, review and implement health and safety protocols. It was recommended that they should be a school nurse, because we know how to interpret the guidelines.
I was appointed to the position by the district’s COVID-19 steering committee. In previous jobs, I was a public health nurse, and I worked frequently in disease prevention and investigation, and I also worked in school health through the Vermont Department of Health, so it was a natural fit for me to be in this position.
It was my job over the summer to make sure we had the supplies necessary for daily temperature checks, to make sure everybody was trained on how to conduct them and to create a protocol for it.
As new guidance comes from the Agency of Education, it’s my job to take it and implement it in a healthy way.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: “Typical” is something that doesn’t exist in nursing, particularly this year.
Along with my COVID coordinator position, I am also the middle school nurse and work with students in grades five through eight.
I have daily nursing duties like medication dispersal and immunization reviews, but this year, all of the nurses in the district are also managing how and when to send kids home.
In years past, we had a pretty high threshold of when to send kids home. If they had a stuffy nose we pushed them through and we worked with them. But pandemic guidelines from the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Children's Hospital were released in late August, and now even minor complaints, such as a runny nose or even a headache are going to send a kid home.
Anytime a kid is out sick we're calling those families, and we're touching base with them about their next steps to get kids safely back in school.
We will work with the provider to see if they have to be seen or if they have to take a test. This year in particular, care coordination and collaboration with providers and families is huge, to ensure that we are keeping everyone safe.
Q: How well are Milton students following the health and safety procedures?
A: I think our kids are amazing. They have been amazing during this whole thing. I think like adults, they are sick of this, and in their own minds I know they are struggling sometimes with COVID fatigue just as much as any of us.
But at the same time, they are really the ones to watch because they are sticking to the strategies pretty well. I don't have to have a ton of conversations about masks with students — they're doing a great job. All of them want to just get back to a place where they can be in school full time and go back to their normal life.
Q: Do you have regular meetings or conversations with COVID-19 coordinators in other districts?
A: I meet with the Chittenden County COVID-19 coordinators once a week. We brainstorm and discuss what's going on and talk about challenges.
I also meet with all of the school nurses throughout the state. The Vermont State School Nurses Association holds what they call town halls which brings together all the school nurses about once a week.
In addition, we meet internally as a district team once a week to kind of go over challenges. I got to say, our team at Milton is pretty amazing. There are two other nurses — Evelyn Carol and Roberta Day — they are fantastic in their jobs and roles. Melinda young, she's our health clerk, and she just is stepping up at any point to ask, “What can I do?”
I'm really lucky, and I know I can speak for our other nurses too. We have a district that values the expertise of nursing. We have always been valuable players at the table.
I think that that speaks volumes about our leadership. They look holistically at child education, so it's not just about academics, they look at other pieces that fit. I'm so thankful for that, especially during a pandemic when our expertise has really been brought to the forefront.