At Wheaton Warrenville South, the Health Services is a four-person department working diligently every day to keep in-person learning a reality for students. Working outside of the spotlight, these individuals carry out work that should never be taken for granted. From the tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic to handling the various other outbreaks and illnesses of South’s past, they have continued to support and defend students and staff alike.
What is this department and what do they do? Head of the health department Colleen Conley explained how they are, “A port in a storm.”The health department, situated on the side of the circular counseling center complex furthest from the main entrance, handles issues including illnesses, injuries, daily medications, immunizations, physicals, eye-examines, helping students transition back from surgeries, and even cooperates on matters with the Special Ed department. They also provide bandages, emergency medication, water, vision and hearing tests, two bathrooms, and an alternative place to change for P.E. In years past, they would even help out with other classes such as biology, health, and RTE’s “Stop the Bleed” program.
“It changes all the time,” Conley said, elaborating on her day-to-day work, “Things were going really smoothly – I’ve been here for 23 years – and all of a sudden this covid hit and my work is completely different.”
While outbreaks and other events have occurred over the years, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their jobs dramatically.
“It’s made our job very busy,” said Conley, “We’re constantly trying to keep up.”
Some of these changes include adhering to the latest rule changes, documenting and digitally reporting COVID-19 cases, and educating teachers and parents. They also handle “routing slips” for students who test positive for COVID-19. This includes collecting homework for the student, informing the student’s teachers, and helping them transition to the different set of teachers who help those students with school for the following weeks. Conley explained how the job now involves, “lots of weekend hours, lots of evening hours”, and how she no longer has time to teach like she used to.
“It’s really hard for me to leave for a whole period, just because the phone’s ringing off the hook,” says Conley.
Nonetheless, Conley remains optimistic. Every day, she checks an app on her phone to view the latest COVID-19 cases and deaths in her region and, when I last interviewed her, she believed that it may be on its downside soon.
From handling the common cold to helping students transition back from surgeries to dealing with COVID-19 cases, the goal of the health department has remained the same throughout. “My goal,” Conley said, “is to keep students in school as much as possible.”