LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Adriana Vanbianchi

Position: District Nurse
School: Methow Valley School District
School District: Methow Valley School District
City, State: Winthrop, WA

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Adriana Vanbianchi was nominated by her superintendent, Tom Venable.

Below is an article published last June in the Methow Valley School District's quarterly publication, the MV Pride. The article highlights the exceptional work displayed by MVSD School Nurse and North Central Washington's Classified Employee of the Year, Ms. Vanbianchi:

The experience at Methow Valley schools over the past 10 months or so defies an easy analogy. Keeping schools open for a full academic year, culminating with a joyful public (but restricted) graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021, was sort of like piloting a ship safely into port during a storm. Except that any ship or its crew would be hard pressed to endure a storm that raged for months on end and still lingers even now, the way the COVID-19 pandemic does. While the boat may have sprung a couple leaks, it never had to change course. And everyone on the crew contributed to the voyage’s success.

In Washington state, the number of COVID-19 cases spiked to its highest levels in December and again in January, after families and friends gave in to the temptation to gather over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. But as school nurse Adriana Vanbianchi reported in a special pandemic podcast in March, the schools dodged a bullet. They didn’t see any cases after winter break. So, in January, school leaders were more concerned about ensuring the safety of their staff. As vaccines that offered immunity from COVID-19 began rolling out in December, the people chosen to get the first doses were healthcare workers and high-risk seniors living in residential care facilities.

During the first school board meeting after winter break, Superintendent Tom Venable made it clear that he and Vanbianchi believed teachers should be thought of as healthcare workers, and given the same priority. The plan at the time was for teachers to get their shots at the end of April — not nearly soon enough. Summarizing Venable’s words, the school board minutes from Jan. 14 put it this way: “Educators have been serving on the front lines and are essentially first responders.” Vanbianchi said she and the school district’s health partners made a point of directing any extra doses in the community into the arms of teachers.

"Their peace of mind was really important to me,” Vanbianchi said. “They needed to feel comfortable in their workspace.”

By mid-March, 85 percent of staff were at least partially vaccinated. A lot of teachers and staff weren’t protected yet when COVID screening in February came up positive in two different Methow Valley Elementary classes. Vanbianchi spent hours on the phone, conducting contact tracing — collecting histories of who the infected students had been in contact with in order to nip a possible outbreak in the bud. Two MVE classes had to quarantine, meaning they met onlineonly for two weeks. All the quarantining and contract tracing worked.

“As far as we could tell, there was no spread within the school,” Vanbianchi said.

Going into spring break, Vanbianchi struck a note of optimism on the district’s pandemic podcast. After all, the valley was thawing after a long winter, and the sun was shining. “There’s a feeling of happiness and hope in the air here. It feels really good,” she said. But at the end of April, the state had hit another peak in COVID cases, despite the fact that health officials had opened up the vaccine to anyone 16 or older on April 15. Again, people across the state were probably giving in a little too early to the itch to travel and see people.

“If there’s COVID in the community, there’ll be COVID in the school,” Vanbianchi said. “The whole community has to do its part.”

Despite the flare-up in cases statewide in late April and early May, the schools didn’t need to quarantine any more classes. The statewide case count started to take a dive in May as the push to vaccinate everybody was starting to make a real difference. The Methow Valley School District partnered with local public health officials and providers by hosting multiple vaccination clinics, increasing access for those eligible to receive the vaccine. All through this time, Vanbianchi and school staff frequently engaged in mad scrambles behind the scenes, with late-night or weekend calls to local clinics or the county Health Department, to get a teacher tested or to get an update on test results. It was the sort of unseen and unheralded work that kept the ship chugging along with confidence, despite all the turbulence.

Vanbianchi credited the teachers and other staff members for coming together as a team, and for their willingness to do things they’d never been asked to do before.

“What made this year possible is that people were flexible,” Vanbianchi said. “Never have I been so busy and worked so hard, and never have I felt so supported by my coworkers.”

Today, school officials are preparing for a full reopening of the schools in the fall, with students in the buildings five days a week. However, it’s too early to say exactly what that will look like. There are a lot of details to be worked out in advance of the fall. For instance, what will happen with school sports? To give just a taste of how strange high school athletics were in the year of COVID-19, Liberty Bell’s football squad was unable to play any games on its home turf because the season started in February, when the valley was heaped with snow. Will we see a return to normal with school sports this fall?

“That’s the hope,” Liberty Bell activities director Michael Wilbur said. “We’re looking forward to a season that’s more normal than before.”

Once again, people at Methow Valley schools will look to nurse Vanbianchi and her expertise to navigate the schools’ reopening, in the face of whatever remains of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the continued reduction in COVID-19 levels and increases in vaccination rates—in our community and statewide—will serve as the foundation for a safe and full reopening of our schools in August.

“My goal for next year is to have staff feel safe coming to school and parents feel safe sending their children to school,” Vanbianchi said. “A lot of schools around the state are just learning how to reopen,” she added. “We know how to reopen. Now we want to thrive.”