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Time magazine recognizes Minnesota school nurse for work during pandemic

National news magazine features work Kimberly Pokrandt has done during the pandemic.

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Kimberly Pokrandt, a registered nurse and nationally licensed school nurse with the Pine Island School District, helps a student with their medication Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Pine Island School. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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PINE ISLAND, Minn. — When Time magazine called, Kimberly Pokrandt was a little surprised.

"They called me because they were looking for a rural representative (of school nurses)," Pokrandt said. "He thought I was going to homes, delivering meds, which is totally illegal. Besides, we’re 7 minutes from Rochester."

The misunderstanding didn't stop Pokrandt from talking to a writer from the magazine about what she does at Pine Island 5-12 School, and how the pandemic has changed the job of being a school nurse.

"I never would have imagined when I applied for my (nursing) license those many years ago that this is where we’d be sitting," Pokrandt said. "I don’t think people could have imagined this."

These days, in addition to dealing with the occasional headache, skinned elbow and even broken bones, being a school nurse is about contact tracing, COVID-19 education, staying on top of the latest data on the virus, and helping make decisions that impact families and the community.

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Pokrandt said when the pandemic was just getting started in early 2020, she was part of the group that made the tough choice to postpone a class trip to New York, an annual event that Pine Island students look forward to their whole high school lives.

"We'd just heard of COVID, and we'd heard it was in Washington (D.C.) and New York City," she said. "I am so proud to be part of the team that made these decisions on whether it was safe to send them."

Not that helping make these decisions always makes her the most popular person in the community. As she mentioned in the Time article, telling a football player that he's been in prolonged contact with someone who tested positive, and telling him and his parents that he'll need to miss a big portion of his senior season can be a big blow to deliver.

"I can have parents mad at me," Pokrandt said. "The reason we’re school nurses is to look out for the health of the kids."

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Kimberly Pokrandt, a registered nurse and nationally licensed school nurse with the Pine Island School District, gets a student a cup of water Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Pine Island School. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

She communicates daily with Krista Despins, the nurse at the pre-K through grade 4 building. Pokrandt called Despins her partner, and someone she couldn't do the job without.

She wished Time, in its story — "From Teachers to Custodians, Meet the Educators Who Saved A Pandemic School Year," which can be found online and in the Sept. 13 issue of the print magazine — had included Despins as well.

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Pine Island Superintendent Tamara Champa said Pokrandt has worked for the district for seven years.

Before that, Pokrandt said she was a school nurse in Rochester Public Schools for three years, and had been a neonatal ICU nurse at Mayo Clinic before that. In fact, as a student in nursing school, Pokrandt said she scoffed at the idea of becoming a school nurse.

That changed when her children started entering school, and her older daughter drew a picture of her wearing scrubs. Pokrandt realized that between the night shifts at the NICU and her odd sleep schedule, her daughter's view of her as someone always wearing scrubs was fairly accurate.

But Pokrandt had also started volunteering at her daughter's school, and she realized she loved being around kids, getting to know them on a personal level, and helping them through their health care emergencies.

"I knew it was a fit," she said. "I loved the NICU, but I wanted to do more."

She just never realized how much more she'd be asked to do when, suddenly, a pandemic was sweeping across the globe, reaching Pine Island and those kids she'd grown to love.

"That’s why I took the job," she said. "I want to know kids and their families."

That means going to sporting events, concerts and plays. It means modeling good behaviors during the pandemic while tracking all those positive COVID-19 cases and keeping up-to-date on case rates in the counties — Goodhue, Olmsted and Dodge — where Pine Island students and staff live.

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And, she said, it means never shaming anyone for being vaccinated or not, wearing a mask or not, in public. After all, these are her neighbors, and as a school nurse, she's just trying to keep everyone healthy.

"Be kind." Pokrant said. "That human kindness will get us through this."

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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