Milford school nurse featured in People magazine COVID article

Mispillion Elementary School nurse was highlighted in a story about COVID-19 in last week’s issue of People magazine. (Submitted photo)

MILFORD — Last week, a popular nurse at Milford’s Mispillion Elementary School got some national attention when she was featured in a People magazine article about returning to school in the COVID-19 era.

Sue Smith has been working with the Milford School District for 25 years. This is her seventh year at Mispillion Elementary.

“I was a little anxious because when you interview, sometimes it can be very positive, sometimes it can be very negative,” Ms. Smith said. “I want it to be positive because I want people to know that we as school nurses are working really hard to do our best to keep your children safe.”

Ultimately, she was happy with how People portrayed her.

“All school nurses are feeling the same anxieties and those kinds of things” Ms. Smith said, so “it’s important to know that in Delaware we’re all trying to work together to help each other.”

She thinks People pursued her perspective in part because she was named the 2019 Nurse of the Year by the Delaware School Nurses Association.

Additionally, Ms. Smith said she was a good source because over the summer, she served in a group formed by Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Department of Education called the Health and Wellness Workgroup for School Reopening, which assessed the state’s plan to send kids back to school.

Ms. Smith said it was exciting being interviewed.

“They interviewed me a few weeks ago and I didn’t know what would happen and all, and then they called and asked for a picture,” she said. “That’s my granddaughter in the picture.”

Ms. Smith said 5-year-old Brooklyn Smith will be starting kindergarten at Banneker Elementary School in the coming weeks.

“I probably will put it in a frame for my granddaughter,” she said of the magazine article. “That way, she’ll have it for a long, long time.”

Ms. Smith said everyone she’s talked to about the article has been excited for her.

“Some people said, ‘Oh my God, Sue. You finally got the recognition you deserve after 25 years of being a school nurse,’” she said.

Teresa Wallace, the principal at Mispillion Elementary, felt that way, too.

“It’s exciting news,” she said. “She works very hard and her being recognized is pretty cool for us. We know how good she is and we’re excited to have her here.”

Ms. Wallace commended the work Ms. Smith had done in establishing the school’s COVID-19 protocols.

“She’s helped the district prepare and helped our school prepare,” Ms. Wallace said. “She is in the field of nursing and has a lot of background, not just as a school nurse, but in other areas. I feel like her knowledge base is really important in dealing with something that has so many unknowns.”

Ms. Smith has experience working in hospital operating rooms and facilities focused on mental health. She still works part-time as an administrative nursing supervisor at Bayhealth Hospital.

Cindy Horsman, a semi-retired nurse who returned to Bayhealth to shore up their staff at the beginning of the pandemic, had nothing but praise for Ms. Smith.

“Sue is a lifelong learner,” Ms. Horsman said. “I think she’s probably one of the smartest people you could meet

Ms. Horsman’s daughter, Kristin Caiola, is a full-time secretary at Mispillion Elementary. So, in recent months, Ms. Horsman has taken on a big role in watching and administering online education to her 7-year-old granddaughter Samantha, a second-grader at Mispillion Elementary.

Samantha said she’s been to Ms. Smith’s office a couple of times.

“If you have a boo-boo, she’ll put a Band-aid on it or an ice pack,” Samantha said.

“It was really good,” she said of her experience with Ms. Smith, “because she’s so nice.”

Ms. Horsman was also excited about Ms. Smith being recognized.

“I think it’s exciting to have somebody locally become a celebrity,” Ms. Horsman said. “Delaware is a small state and we kind of get ignored a lot, so I think it’s pretty awesome.”

She is also happy with the approach Ms. Smith has taken to reopening the schools this year.

“I think the way they’re setting it up seems very practical and logical,” Ms. Horsman said. “Everybody is being educated on what to look for.”

“These kids need to socialize, especially these younger ones, and they need to have someone to teach them how to read one-on-one,” she said. “I really think it would benefit the children to go back with the proper protections they have in place.”

Ms. Caiola was also very happy with Ms. Smith.

“The nurse has really done a great job educating and getting people ready for the new year,” she said.

Although Ms. Caiola said remote learning has gone well for Samantha, she’s excited to have her back in the classroom part-time.

“We’ve had to go through lots and lots of masks to be able to find the one that’s most comfortable for her to bear when she goes back,” Ms. Caiola said.

At present, only those students who absolutely need in-person instruction are coming into the classroom. But Ms. Smith said next week the district will begin phasing in its youngest students for part-time in-person instruction.

“Next week, it’ll be pre-kindergarteners coming in,” she said. “Then the next week it will K-through-three. And then it’ll be four through eight, then it’ll be ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th.

Still, there are many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, particularly how it impacts children.

“There’s always going to be that anxiety,” Ms. Smith said.

“You kind of have to look at everybody as a potential,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of confirmed research with kids.”

Ms. Smith will focus on screening students for symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, nausea or diarrhea. Still, she said these are not surefire indicators of the virus.

“It’s allergy season. Kids are going to be sniffling and coughing,” she said. “You could have strep, but it has the same symptoms as COVID.”

Because of this, Ms. Smith’s office will be getting in touch with parents more frequently in search of greater clarity on the nature of their children’s symptoms.

Ms. Smith said she and other school nurses will not be able to socially distance at work.

“We’re going to be the ones that are going to be close, because I can’t stand back here and check your temperature,” she said. “I can’t listen to your lungs from six feet, so nurses are going to be close to students.”

This is a risk she has chosen to take even though she is 62 years old and asthmatic.

“I’m absolutely happy to be back. We need some normalcy for our families and all of our students in our community,” Ms. Smith said. “Educators are essential employees now. Schools are essential. We need to get our kids back to school the safest way we can.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.