The kids at Willow School are happy to have the school year come to a close, but for Willow School nurse Gail Straney it is bittersweet.
“I’ll miss the kids,” she said as retirement looms.
But after a 40-year career as a hospital nurse and then a school nurse, it’s time to say goodbye.
The staff at Willow has been giving her a big send-off. For example, on National School Nurse Day on May 11 they all dressed in hospital scrubs and had the students make cards for Straney. And a group of students presented her with a special bouquet of dandelions.
When her two boys were young, Straney transitioned from 20 years at an Indiana hospital — the last several years on an oncology ward — to school nursing. She went back to college to be certified in school nursing. She had substituted for several years, “so I knew what I’d be facing.”
Her first 15 years with Homewood District 153 were at Millennium School serving fifth and sixth graders. When Millennium closed, Straney moved to Willow dealing with pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second graders.
She admits the older kids were easier because they could tell her what their issues were. The younger kids, not so much. On any given day, Straney has treated kids with minor injuries — everything from a playground fall, to a bug bite and a tummy ache.
She also is the keeper of medicines, such as Epi-Pens for allergy emergencies, and prescription drugs for children with chronic diseases who appear at her door on scheduled times for medications.
“All day somebody needs something. If I don’t see somebody for 20 minutes, I get a little anxious,” she said. With a little one often at her door, Straney admits she stays late to finish the paperwork that she couldn’t get to during a school day.
“I love working here. I love the environment but it’s not for everybody. You’re on your own here, the only health person in the building,” she said.
The public health aspect of nursing was something from her bygone days in nursing school at Purdue University, but she quickly got up to speed when COVID-19 hit. The pandemic proved to be a real challenge because it’s not just the kids’ needs she’s had to be aware of but she had to relay information to immune-compromised family members as well.
“COVID has certainly been an interesting twist in a nursing life,” she said.
District 153 hasn’t found its next Willow School nurse. Straney worries about that. She hopes someone steps forward to fill her position because “pre-kindergarten and kindergarten screenings will need to be done and registered before students can begin school in August,” she said.