Suzanne Powell, the health room aide at St. Leo the Great School in Rohrerstown, covered her mouth in astonishment at the sight of students clamoring in the parking lot on a recent Friday morning.
But instead of hearing calls for ice packs or relief from bee stings, Powell heard the voices of more than 300 students cheering and chanting her name.
In a surprise celebration to thank Powell for her efforts in building and executing the school’s COVID-safety plan this past year, the school community lined the length of the parking lot to show their gratitude.
Walking amid a sea of handheld noisemakers, balloons and cheers that began inside the school lobby, wove through the hallways to the back door and continued across the expansive parking lot, Powell waved and smiled at the students as she brushed away tears.
“In a school, the teachers are usually the rock stars,” Powell said.
The line of students, faculty and parents guided Powell to the parish pavilion, where she was greeted by family members, a presentation from principal Christine McLean and a blessing from Father Stephen Logue, parochial vicar.
“I could not have kept this school open without her,” McLean said of Powell’s efforts in establishing the school’s safety protocols. McLean pointed out that Powell devoted at least 80 hours last summer to developing a re-opening plan that carried through the school year.
“Suzanne’s expectation for our performance was rigorous and steady,” McClean told The Catholic Witness. “She undertook this effort with a compassionate, listening heart, understanding of all the things facing families this year, but never under-delivering what she thinks has to be done to keep our school safe.”
Powell is a graduate of St. Leo the Great School, and sent her children there as well. She has been working as the school’s health room aide for eight years. This year, her typical days of easing stomach aches, applying bandages and removing splinters were expanded to include taking students’ temperatures upon arrival, sanitizing rooms with an electrostatic fogger, maintaining an inventory of hand sanitizer and face masks, and staying up-to-date with the latest COVID-safety measures from the CDC, the Department of Health, and the Diocese.
Powell said she credits the students, faculty, staff and parents for a successful school year, and expressed her gratitude for their understanding throughout the challenging months.
In turn, the community displayed their appreciation, honoring Powell during the week of May 10 with daily cards, banners, flowers and balloons.
“I am used to delivering news that is not great to hear, especially with contact tracing. Calling parents and telling them their child had possibly been exposed was the hardest thing to do, because I understand that as a mother,” Powell said. “But I enforce the rules for the greater good. If I can have students and staff follow guidelines for less risk, then I can take their frustrations, I can let them vent, knowing it’s for the greater good of the school.”
“The principal, the teachers, the pastor [Father Peter Hahn], the staff, the kids, the families – they’ve all been wonderful this year,” she said. “There are a thousand things I can say about them. They surprise me with their kindness and their connectedness to the faith, and how they show it and live it every day. I am amazed and overwhelmed at all their wonderful gestures of appreciation.”
It seems school nurses can be rock stars, too.
Learn more about St. Leo the Great School at www.stleoschool.org.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness