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AMS nurse Holland adjusting daily

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 

M. Holland


Michelle Holland is staring toward white gate that leads to the hallway. Her face and warm smile hidden by a decorative face-mask while answering questions about a pandemic she only learned about nine months ago. 


Holland always wanted to be a nurse. But being a nurse in 2020 comes with a mighty strong tablespoon of responsibility. 


Two or three doses of reality, actually. 


"None of the kids can come across the gate once they're temperature has been taken," Holland said. "We have to keep the kids separate; I can't have the kids in here with me."


Those with any type of COVID-19 symptoms are ushered to a room across the hall. There are no sports posters or pictures of teen heartthrob Timothee Chalamet, the 2020 version of Jason Priestly or Leonardo DiCaprio. 


2020 is different. 


"I love middle school kids," Holland said. "They're old enough to tell you what's wrong with them. They're vulnerable; they're emotions are all over the place. It's a good age to connect with them."


But Holland, who is in her seventh year as the nurse at Alma Middle School, is going to work every day. Even as COVID numbers dangerously spike across the country, Alma schools remain open. 


"We've had to change the way we see the kids," Holland said. "We have to wait and let the teacher's send them. The teachers have done a lot to make sure it's not the little stuff, making sure it's more serious when they send them to us. 


"Trying to figure out if they have COVID is really a big deal. If they have more than one symptom, we have to send them home."


The message, Holland said, without spelling it out is to have parents make sure those with COVID symptoms get tested. "It's a big process," she said. 


Becoming a nurse is something the former Michelle Cooper yearned to do not long after graduating from high school.


"My grandmother got sick right after I was out of high school," Holland said. "She was diabettic and I helped take care of her. I decided I wanted to pursue that."


Holland spent a decade-plus at Fort Smith Mercy Hospital before becoming a school nurse.


"I subbed for a long time before I started working full-time," she said. "I worked at (Mercy Fort Smith) full-time for 13 years before I came to the school, so I kind of had an idea of what I was getting into. It's (schools) totally different."


As for the gate, the one protecting her from kids in the hallway, it’s the last line of defense during a pandemic no one knew was coming.


"It's a lot different, because the kids used to come in here and I had a repore with them," Holland said. "I still talk to them across the gate, but it's not the same."


Neither is school. 


But kids have persevered, adjusted to wearing face-masks, and have learned to social distance themselves from others.


Holland has noticed a downward tick in flu season, too. It's there; it may ramp up in January. 


But for now it’s fairly quiet.


"I've heard of a couple of flu cases, but it's really not bad yet," Holland said. "I think with everybody washing their hands and wearing their masks has helped cut down on the flu. I think this (social distancing) was a good idea that we should have been doing already. 


"We've learned to do things a little differently."