Liz Dyevich: “Superhero” in the Nurse’s Office at Johnson Park School
By Donald Gilpin
The students’ physical and mental well-being is the top priority of the Princeton Public Schools (PPS), and in the forefront of that endeavor are the seven nurses at the district schools. The past two years have presented them with situations beyond what they could possibly have imagined or trained for, but they have stepped up to lead the schools in confronting the challenges of COVID-19.
“Throughout the pandemic, our nurses have embodied the best of PPS as they assist our students, families, and staff with compassion, understanding, and patience,” said PPS Human Services Director Micki Crisafulli. “They make sure everyone is cared for and informed. They complete contact tracing at all times, including instances when they work nights and weekends. Our entire community is healthier and safer as a result of their dedication.”
The team of PPS nurses includes Magarida Cruz and Gail Cipolloni at Princeton High School, Kathleen Bihuniak at Princeton Middle School, Liz Dyevich at Johnson Park, Sarah Gooen-Chen at Riverside, Holly Javick at Littlebrook, and Vera Maynard at Community Park.
In an email exchange earlier this week, Dyevich, “Nurse Liz,” discussed the world of school nursing and how that world has been transformed since the pandemic arrived in early 2020.
“Over the past two years my job has changed drastically,” she said. “The only constant has been the amazing students and their love for being in school with friends and teachers. I have added the extra responsibilities of contact tracing, keeping up on all the COVID guidelines and policies, and being a part of the school district’s COVID committee.”
She continued, “I had to learn how to do virtual health lessons, monitor close contacts and quarantines, and navigate helping students with the mental and physical effects of COVID.”
Dyevich arrives at Johnson Park (JP) at about 7:45 a.m. each day. She administers morning medications and checks up on sick students from prior days. Primarily in her office, each day she cares for about 30-40 students, who come in for many different reasons. She tries to eat lunch at 1 p.m., but often gets backed up with “recess injuries” and postpones lunch until 2 p.m. or later. “My day ends with bus dismissal and making sure every student is safely picked up or on the bus,” she said.
Dyevich talked about the impact of the pandemic on mental health and the value of in-person learning for PPS students and staff this year. “Being in a virtual learning environment is very difficult for students and takes away the social connections, friendships, and relationships that students rely on,” she wrote. “School is so much more than academic learning, and unfortunately being virtual takes some of this away. I love being able to have the kids back in school with each other.”
JP Principal Angela Siso Stentz elaborated on a few of the details of Dyevich’s work day. “Nurse Liz is an exceptional school nurse who has worked 24/7 to care for JP’s students and families as we continue to navigate through this pandemic,” said Stentz. “She is always available to respond to an emergency, to provide guidance on so many fluctuating circumstances, and to spread her love to all of us.”
Stentz went on, “Nurse Liz monitors CrisisGo, reaches out to students, staff, and parents when they are presenting symptoms, and provides up-to-date guidance on next steps. Nurse Liz coordinates with the Princeton Health Department and provides updates to JP and the community-at-large. Nurse Liz has devoted so much of her time after hours to respond to emergencies and to volunteer at vaccination clinics and with contact tracing. She is an integral part of the school nurse team at PPS as she continues to keep us all calm during this pandemic.”
Dyevich has been focused on a career in nursing since the early age of 6, when her mother became sick with cancer. “I experienced the field of medicine firsthand and saw how much of an impact caring nurses and doctors can make,” she said. “I saw the ups and downs of a tragic illness and ultimately experienced the death of my mother when I was only 15. In her honor, from then, I wanted to become a nurse and make the lives of others better.”
Dyevich lives in Princeton with her husband and four children, who all went through PPS. Her two sons and her older daughter recently graduated from college, and her younger daughter is currently a college junior.
A registered and school-certified nurse, Dyevich served in various hospitals for 25 years, working in different departments including open heart surgery and surgical units. “I have always been passionate about helping others and knew that nursing was a profession where I could always be giving back to my community and making a difference,” she said.
When her children went to school she wanted to have a schedule that aligned more with theirs in order to spend more time with them. She got her start in school nursing by going on field trips as a nurse. Fifteen years ago when a job opened up at PPS, “I could not turn down the opportunity and have never looked back,” she said.
The best part of the job for Dyevich is her interactions with the students. “They are truly one of a kind and make me smile every day,” she said. “I love getting to form relationships with all the students and getting to know them and see them grow through elementary school. The positivity and excitement that the kids bring to school every day is contagious. Beyond their years at Johnson Park, it brings me so much joy to stay in touch and get to see them grow into young adults as they go on to middle and high school.”
And those relationships extend far beyond the walls of Johnson Park. “An amazing part of my job is living in Princeton and being able to interact with all of my students outside of school in everyday life. On countless occasions I have been walking on Nassau Street or in my neighborhood with my dog and I hear, ‘Nurse Liz!’ I love seeing students out to eat, grocery shopping, or hanging out with friends. So much of my job is made better by the amazing relationships I have built.”
Dyevich’s colleagues and students may have benefited even more from the relationship than Dyevich has. As the schools continue to contend with the pandemic, Stentz expressed her appreciation. “JP is super-lucky to have Nurse Liz leading the way!” she wrote. “On behalf of the entire JP community, I want to send my extra-large thank you to Nurse Liz. She has been my right-hand superhero, and I wouldn’t want to share that responsibility with anyone else. Thank you, Nurse Liz!”