By Amy White
Special to The Texas Catholic
Boasting 522 students in its Upper School and 314 in its lower, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School is the biggest Catholic pre-K through eighth grade school in the Lone Star State—which, during a pandemic, means more than enough sticky hands, runny noses, and sore throats to make a school nurse’s job complicated.
Luckily, St. Thomas Aquinas can rest assured that its nurses, Jacqueline Renee Pinkston and Nikki Ramos, are more than equipped to meet this towering challenge.
Pinkston, a graduate of Baylor University’s nursing school and a registered nurse for 28 years, has spent 22 of those years serving as a nurse at STA’s Upper School. At the Lower School, Ramos, a nurse since 1995, has tended to the health of STA students for 16 years.
Together, the two are working diligently to protect the health and wellbeing of students during COVID.
“They are case managing, they are investigating, and they are counseling parents, staff, and students,” said STA’s President Patrick Magee.
Though many of the nurses’ daily tasks remain the same as they were pre-COVID—including addressing injuries and illnesses unrelated to the pandemic—they now shoulder a new responsibility: the role of “gatekeeper.” As gatekeepers, the nurses watch against any threats of coronavirus that could infringe upon the school.
Part of this effort consists in upholding both CDC and diocesan-recommended preventative measures. “Faculty, staff, and student screening, full-time face masks, hand hygiene, and social distancing are just a few of the mitigating measures our school has put into place,” Pinkston said.
Additionally, the nurses now devote a substantial amount of time to contact tracing and case reporting. Communicating with parents and teachers about the health of students, Pinkston and Ramos determine which students must stay home, which may return to school, and which need further evaluation. All of this necessitates a good deal of record-keeping.
“I am definitely busier,” Ramos said, “and most of the time it involves paperwork.”
Though the workload of the nurses has ballooned, both Ramos and Pinkston view the year’s challenges optimistically.
“Our new tasks and responsibilities have been very time consuming,” Pinkston said, “but from a school health perspective, things have never been better.”
Already, due to stricter health practices, the nurses have seen a reduced number of flu and strep-like symptoms in students.
Ramos also presents a positive picture.
“The pandemic has changed my work in so many ways, but I feel I am the better nurse for it,” she said. “I have grown stronger as a nurse, mom, wife, and friend… I have learned to rely on my faith and pray often.”
With hearts lifted to God and minds focused on the community’s health, Pinkston and Ramos have proven a sturdy foundation for STA during this pandemic.
“The work they do on a daily basis is critical for us to continue to educate our students, to take care of the school community, and to remain open,” Magee said. “Saying that Renee and Nikki are doing an amazing job is the understatement of the year!”