When she worked as a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at the former Tod Children’s Hospital in Youngstown, Rhonda Zebroski treated children who had been in very serious accidents, or suffered from serious medical conditions.
While she loved working there, it became harder and harder emotionally to see these kids, she said.
“As I started having my own family, it got tougher and tougher to see such awful accidents, I guess you would say. So many things, and then I would think, ‘That could happen to my kids.’ It got a little stressful,” Zebroski said.
Looking for a change of pace, she found it when family friend Maud McBride retired as the Brookfield school nurse after 29 years, and Zebroski was hired to replace her.
“I thought it might be nice, instead of working with sick children, to work with well children,” she said.
Thirty-two years later, Zebroski finished up her service to the school on June 3, the last day of school.
Zebroski officially retired at the end of the last school year, but was rehired on a one-year contract.
“I will miss this place,” said the registered nurse, who got her degree from Kent State. “I’ve been here a long time. One thing about a school nurse is you work with everybody. You work with all the students, all the staff and you get friendships and I will definitely miss them.”
It’s a good time to bow out because the COVID-19 pandemic has made her job much busier, and more administrative.
“It has changed everything so much, because we spend the majority of our day on that,” said the 1974 Brookfield High graduate. “If we hear somebody has it, then we have to talk to the parent, we have to give them the CDC guidelines. Then, we have to contact trace, and that takes a lot of time.”
“We did go through a little phase in March, which I couldn’t believe, and maybe a little of April – We had no COVID,” Zebroski said on May 20. “It was like it disappeared. And, it’s back. It is back.”
Prior to COVID, the position of school nurse had changed a lot over the years anyway, as government regulations evolved as to immunizations and screenings.
“A school nurse does a lot more than I think people know,” Zebroski said. “You sort of become a public health nurse. Many state-mandated testings, I’ve learned vision and hearing checks and lice checks, those kind of things you never did in the hospital. Immunizations, never had to deal with that in the hospital.”
She worked with diabetic children and those with chronic illnesses, checking blood sugar and administering medications and insulin.
“We see them almost daily,” she said. “It’s definitely more of a challenge in the elementary, especially when they are just newly diagnosed during the school year, because they have to learn everything, and so we are there, certainly, to help them.”
Zebroski is turning the reins over to Danielle Buie, who was hired May 18 full-time after spending the past year at Brookfield part-time.
“I think the school’s gonna be in great hands with her,” Zebroski said. “She’s young, she’s energetic, she’s smart. Yep, they will be fine.”
In retirement, Zebroski plans to dote on her two grandchildren, who were born two days apart in September, and help care for her 96-year-old father, Tony. Her mother, Shirley, who also was a nurse, died in December at age 93.
“Enjoy life, especially with family,” she said, including her husband, John. “Ready for another adventure.”