School nurse Adriana Vanbianchi wins awards for efforts
School nurse Adriana Vanbianchi starts her days at 4 in the morning. To get the most up-to-date information about COVID, she tunes into the Virology podcast during her morning run.
Vanbianchi is passionate about keeping students and staff at the Methow Valley School District healthy, but this year — her second as the district’s nurse — has been particularly intense because of the pandemic. Since her husband, Justin Porter, is the lead paramedic at Aero Methow Rescue Service, “There’s not really an end to work at our house,” Vanbianchi said. “It’s a lifestyle this year.”
Vanbianchi’s work was recognized with two awards in May. Her peers at the school voted her classified employee of the year in the North Central Region, putting her in the running for the state honor. The award recognizes employees who’ve used collaboration and leadership to make connections between their daily work and student success.
And the North Central Educational Service District (NCESD) awarded Vanbianchi the Friend of Children Award. The award — presented to more than 60 school nurses and health-room assistants in the four-county region — recognizes the role health staffers have played in keeping schools, students and communities safe during the pandemic.
Vanbianchi’s efforts have been instrumental in keeping the school population — and, by extension, the community — healthy. She credits keeping up on cutting-edge COVID research and partnerships with the health care community, including Family Health Centers, Confluence Health, Aero Methow and Okanogan County Public Health.
“There was never a decision made without input and help of the administration team at the school, the clinics or the county,” she said. “It was all teamwork. Anyone and everyone was willing to talk to me and work through a difficult scenario any hour of the day.”
Vanbianchi helped coordinate her 11th COVID vaccination clinic last week — the first in the Methow for children as young as 12. The clinic vaccinated about 125 students. “We were ready for the kids because we had done so many clinics,” she said. She was impressed to see how supportive kids were of their classmates — they would hold a hand or shoulder as their friends got the shot.
While there was never a case transmitted at the school, about 20 members of the school community have been infected with COVID. Every positive case meant an in-depth investigation of that individual’s contacts and activities in the past 14 days to determine if anyone else had to quarantine, Vanbianchi said.
When someone at the school became sick with COVID, Vanbianchi spent days — sometimes an entire weekend — doing contact tracing. She also made sure that a student or family had groceries and other essentials during quarantine. “Quarantine can be so miserable for kids and families — it makes it really real,” she said.
“There have been moments of extreme stress while supporting families through their 14-day quarantines,” and there have been many difficult conversations about how to navigate the district’s policies and procedures, she said.
“Some families felt the protocols were too strict; some thought they weren’t strict enough. But by adhering to our science-driven protocols, and having the support of our community, we were able to keep the schools open for the whole school year,” she said.
Since the Methow Valley was one of a handful of districts with in-person instruction, the willingness to follow these protocols — and be open to ideas — was part of what kept everyone safe, Vanbianchi said. That included upgrading the ventilation system, keeping windows open even in winter, and holding classes outdoors in tents. Students and teachers wore jackets and wrapped themselves in blankets at their desks. The school did regular COVID testing — every two weeks for staff, and after holiday breaks for students.
Now that vaccines are authorized for children as young as 12, Vanbianchi has been making the rounds of classes to answer questions about the vaccine and provide evidence-based, scientific information so that students and their families can make informed decisions, she said.
Vanbianchi is one of a few full-time school nurses in Okanogan County. The position is funded by the state, the school levy and a partnership with Family Health Centers, according to Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable.
Despite the long hours and stresses of the year, it’s actually been easier than her first six months on the job, which she spent learning all the responsibilities of a school nurse.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, I would be working the same amount,” she said.
Venable recognized for innovation
Venable has been recognized for his work with the Student Achievement Leadership Award from the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) and NCESD.
“I was honored to be able to accept the award on behalf of the school board, administrative team, staff, parents and students. They have been nothing short of exceptional, making the best out of a difficult situation — a true reflection of grace, gratitude, empathy and resilience at all points along the way,” Venable said.
The award is presented to WASA members who’ve provided leadership in implementing innovative programs that result in growth in student achievement.