LYNDONVILLE — Sophia “Soph” Hall has had big shoes this year as a school nurse working throughout the pandemic, both in her role as the COVID-19 Coordinator for the Kingdom East School District, and as the president until the end of June of the Vermont State School Nurses Association (VSSNA).
A nurse with four decades of experience, Hall has served as the school nurse at Millers Run School in Sheffield since 2013; she is a Nationally Certified School Nurse.
Hall has served as president of the statewide school nurses’ group the past four years, and that role, as well as her being promoted to the critical role of COVID-19 coordinator for Kingdom East, put her in a position where she used her platform to advocate for the best practices to keep schools safe this past year.
“I wrote to the governor and I wrote to the Commissioner of Health and asked them, why do you not have a school nurse on the committee? It’s a health crisis that’s led to an uprooting of education. We all have to learn how to do things differently, but first and foremost - it’s a health crisis,” stressed Hall, who is working on her doctorate degree, which she’ll complete this year.
Hall’s presidency of the VSSNA led to her lobbying to have school nurses at the decision-making table at the beginning of the Pandemic. “The COVID-19 is a HEALTH crisis, not an education crisis,” she said. “I was successful in being the voice of the school nurse in numerous ways. I pushed hard to be invited to the table of decision-makers headed by the Secretary of Education as a school health expert. This has led to additional ways I have made an impact on the health of students and staff beyond the KESD district.”
She credited the health/educator team which produced A Strong and Healthy Start-Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools, Fall 2020, through the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE), on which she served.
She also secured a seat at the VT-NEA task force working to assure the safety of its members when return to in-person learning occurred.
Hall added, “Volunteering is an important part of who I am. Pandemic volunteer opportunities abound. During the initial phases of the pandemic, I served as a screener for employees working at NVRH, and later as a vaccinator with the Health Department.”
“I think the hardest part was although many people saw me on Zoom (meetings online) to most people I was an unknown entity in the district. Who is this person who is telling us our kids have to wear masks when they go back to school?” she said.
The Kingdom East School District’s annual report, published for the annual meeting in early March, was dedicated to school nurses this year, said Hall.
Of the mask-wearing, social distance and more, “We do it because we want these kids in school - we want them safe in school,” was Hall’s mantra.
In the beginning, when the groundwork for re-opening was taking place, “Nobody talked to me like I was a pariah … I was the person in our school district saying ‘no, you cannot do that, you cannot have a fan in your room … ’ ”
“As time has gone on, through the school year, I’ve heard ‘thanks for being so hard on us,’ ,” said Hall. “It was tough, there were lot of sleepless nights, many sleepless weekends with no break.”
Hall isn’t sure the exact number of COVID-19 positive cases that occurred within the Kingdom East community, but said, “We never had to close an entire school down for any length of time.”
The team learned how to cope when positive cases happened, and Hall herself did much of the contract tracing. “I saw that as my role as COVID coordinator, I was in on all of those meetings and many times I would help make those phone calls.”
Hall said, “The kids would ask questions at the beginning of the year, ‘what about this? what about that, nurse Soph?’ Once a week I did recess duty. The kids just wanted to play with the other class, and they weren’t allowed to do that.”
Finally, one day, near the end of the year, Hall said after “checking with the big guys (state officials)” she told the kids, “’Today is the day!’ They were so excited!”