2022 NYSASN Distinguished Service Award

from the Western New York Educational Service Council

Zone 13 representative, Barbara Baer, accepted this award at a recent dinner hosted by the Western New York Educational Service Council. Please see below for a transcript of the remarks made by her former superintendent during the presentation.

It is my honor and privilege to conclude our program by introducing this year’s recipient of the Dr. Robert W. Heller Distinguished Service Award. The WNYESC created this award- also known as the Friend of the Council Award- in honor of the exceptional qualities and legacy of Dr. Robert W. Heller who served as the WNYESC Executive Director from 1966-1998 while also serving as a professor emeritus in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the SUNY University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education. During his tenure, Dr. Heller had a widespread influence on educational leadership across New York State.

In recognition of the critical role played by school nurses both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Western New York Educational Service Council would like to present the 2022 Distinguished Service Award to the New York State Association of School Nurses. Accepting the award for the Association is Mrs. Barbara Baer, its Region 13 representative.

The best schools for children are built upon a foundation of caring and committed adults. While we often discuss the importance of the relationship that students build with their teachers, the school nurse is one adult who has relationships with them all. The New York State Association of School Nurses advocates for legislation in support of student health and the professionals who watch over them in schools. Its mission statement reads: “to advance the practice of school nursing and enhance the educational success of students by promoting quality health services.” Much like nurses themselves, the Association’s statement is modest and an understatement of their contribution to our schools.

School nurses are a highly skilled and dedicated group of professionals who have chosen to serve as front-line care workers to our students- more and more of whom are medically fragile and might otherwise not be able to attend school in person. Our school nurses help care for the immediate medical needs of students and staff while also providing on-going support for a variety of medical conditions. School nurses manage emergency responses, administer medications and treatments and coordinate seizure management and concussion management. They do screenings for vision, hearing, scoliosis and do referrals and assist families to get access to needed care.

The school nurse is not only a medical professional but takes on many other roles for kids as well friend, confidant, pseudo-parent and conscience. Their doors are always open, you don’t need an appointment to speak to the nurse, and the students (and their families) know and trust them. The work of our nurses goes beyond that of physical to many aspects of mental health as well. School nurses engage in triage on a daily basis around a host of issues impacting the social and emotional health of children and staff. While passing out Band-aids and ice packs, they also lend a warm smile, a listening ear and an empathic, compassionate heart- sometimes more needed than a medical intervention.

As important as the school nurse has always been, the strains and stresses of the past two years has elevated the importance and professionalism of school nurses to new heights. During Covid, school nurses took on many new roles. School nurses were critical participants in the creation and implementation of District re-opening plans. They truly became experts in public health and established one-on-one relationships with their local departments of health. School nurses became contact tracing experts, data gatherers and reporters. They spoke with families to explain and help them understand the ever-changing rules for isolation and quarantine.

Then there was student and staff testing. School nurses served on the front lines wearing masks, gloves, and goggles as they swabbed hundreds of noses. Many came in on weekends and holidays to provide testing in response to critical situations in schools. In a critical situation, nurses stepped up to the plate and hit home run after home run- all to support the work to keep kids in school but to do it safely. This put them in many difficult situations and into many tough conversations. Throughout it all, school nurses responded with class and professionalism.

As a Superintendent, I knew I could count upon my nursing team to be there regardless of the situation. Indeed, our team often came together to support a building experiencing an outbreak in a classroom or school. Our nurses modeled collaboration to make sure they followed protocols and provide the support needed to get the job done. Emerging from the pandemic, our school nurses are called upon to make difficult judgments about issues such as school attendance as the DOH guidelines of last year become less and less clear. While frustrating, our school nurses will never shirk from their responsibilities.

By making this award to the New York State Association of School Nurses, the Western New York Educational Service Council stands for all our partners in education in recognizing the critical contributions of school nurses to the school experience of our children and the integral role they played in helping us move through a national health crisis. We cannot thank our nurses enough for all they do and have done. Mrs. Baer—thank you and thanks to NYSASA as our 2022 recipient of the Robert Heller Distinguished Service Award for all your efforts and contributions in our quest to keep our kids and staff safe and healthy in the face of the pandemic.