No place she’d rather be

Lothrop school nurse Melanie Parker on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic


PITTSFORD — For the last 17 years, school nurse Melanie Parker has held down her dream job at Lothrop Elementary School in Pittsford. After all, she’s an alumnus.

“Lothrop’s my school,” she said. “I grew up in Florence so it’s very near and dear to my heart.”

Parker, 48, now finds herself in the unchartered waters of a global pandemic and on the front lines of health and safety at her alma mater. But while some school nurses and other staff members in districts around the country have opted to retire or leave education this year rather than risk contracting COVID-19 in the schools, Parker said it never entered her mind.

Lothrop Elementary School Nurse Melanie Parker has been on the job for 17 years. Parker went from being a student at Lothrop as a child to being the school nurse, a dream job that she has no intention of leaving. Photo provided

“It is my job and I want to be the one to do it,” she said. “I want to help the families. I want to go through it with my students. I wouldn’t want to be somewhere else right now. I can’t imagine them trying to get through this with someone they didn’t know.”

That said, Parker added that nurses, staff members and educators who did decide to leave the education field due to the pandemic all had their own good reasons for their decision.

“It is very personal and there’s no judgment on anyone for the choices we make.”

Parker’s own daughter attends third grade at Lothrop, another reason the nurse is as invested in the school as she is.

Her days are very different this year. In addition to being the Lothrop school nurse, Parker is currently the nurse liaison for the Otter Valley Unified Union School Districts, meaning she is the communication link between the central office and the school nurses in the district. The position lasts two years and then another nurse in the district will serve in the liaison role. Parker said she spends a lot of time keeping up with changes to health and safety regulations and interpreting them for parents and staff as well.

“I spend a lot of time each day looking up the regulations and helping people follow them,” she said.
As for the day to day in the Lothrop school building, Parker she moved her office to a classroom with a bathroom and a window, as ventilation is required by the state. An isolation room for sick and symptomatic students was established in a small room near the front entrance of the school as required by state regulation as well. Parker said the room is also used for more complete health screenings to assess students if any issue is detected during the morning screening, when temperature checks are done. Parents can then easily pick up the students.

Within the school, in addition to the morning temperature checks and health screenings for COVID-19, Parker said the roughly 200 students and staff are masked all day. Students are relegated to their classrooms for most of the day. Even at recess, there are assigned zones on the playground fro different classes, and each class stays within their zone to maintain social distancing. Hand sanitizer is available and used liberally throughout the school.

“Overall, I think the students are doing a great job,” Parker said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy for adults to wear masks all day, but we know we have to and it’s good for the kids to see that. We have to do it all together for safety so I think that helps.”

There have not been any positive cases of COVID-19 at Lothrop, and Parker said that is due in large part to the commitment of the not only the staff, but the families as well to following regulations and being safe.

“I have to say, I’m really proud of the families for following the guidelines and restrictions so well,” she said. “I have to send kids home with symptoms I wouldn’t normally send them home for. Most people are working and to try and figure that out is a lot for families.”

As a safety requirement, Parker must send any child home with even the mildest symptoms, which requires a judgment call on her part. Dr. Breena Holmes of Middlebury is the Maternal and Child Health Director for the Vermont Department of Health. Parker said Holmes holds regular virtual meetings with the district’s nurses to check in on the front lines and offer guidance.

“She’s very practical and says things like, ‘Use your nursing judgment. You know these kids,’” Parker said.

When asked about living with the pandemic into the 2021 school year, Parker sighed and then was resolute.

“There is that chance, and we can do it,” she said. “I’m hoping we don’t become complacent with guidelines and community and families.”

To that end, Parker said she tries to keep things light and foster humor wherever she can. For instance, a friend of hers made a sign with a clear message for students: Treat your mask like underwear,” with smaller signs underneath, “Make sure it’s clean,” “Do not borrow or lend it,” “Change it daily,” “Make sure it fits snug, but not too tight,” “Do not share it.”

“You have to have a little humor about the masks and everything we do,” she said. “This is something I think we weren’t prepared for in the world, and definitely not in this country for sure.”

A poster one of Parker’s friends made as a funny reminder to students. Parker said keeping humor is key to getting through the pandemic together at Lothrop Elementary School. Photo provided

She was asked whether she ever thought she’d be nursing a school through a global pandemic. Parker has an associate’s degree from Castleton State University and a Bachelor’s in nursing from the University of Vermont.

“No,” she said bluntly, “and you learn about pandemics in nursing school, of course, but not how it applies to your day to day life. You know, you reading about something in history is different than living it.”

But Parker said she has dedicated herself to her school, and she will tackle whatever the pandemic throws at her and her beloved students and fellow staff members.

“We’re in it together,” she said. “I love this school. When I got hired 17 years ago, I felt so grateful to be a part of it.”

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