Kingsway’s Underappreciated Heroes

Kingsway’s nurses share their stories and the hard work they do.


School nurses are an important part of any school, and every student at some point has met them during their time at school. Whether students are in for a scrape, headache, illness, or something more serious, the nurses are always there. Kingsway Regional High School has two nurses: Christina Santiago, and Barbara Neal, but not many have had the opportunity to truly get to know them.

Santiago is from Upper Township in Cape May County and has been at Kingsway for twenty years in total, five of which have been in the nurse’s office. Santiago got into nursing because she liked to help people. She landed at Kingsway after going to Rowan University for sports medicine. Part of the curriculum was to train at a high school, and she worked under Mrs. Geramelo. Santiago stayed as an athletic trainer for the next fifteen years at Kingsway, and in 2010 decided to get her nursing license. Originally she wanted to become a nurse in a hospital and work alongside an orthopedic surgeon; however, wishing to stay at Kingsway, Santiago became the school’s additional nurse. 

Neal is from the local area, and having a few friends already involved in nursing at schools, decided to become a nurse after spending some time observing another nurse. Originally she went to Gloucester County Community College (now titled Rowan College of South Jersey), before going to Widener University. She then got her School Nursing license at Rowan. While at Rowan, Neal practiced at Kingsway. Originally she worked at an elementary school after her education, but when an opening became available at Kingsway, she applied because she felt the most comfortable here. 

Santiago and Neal both believe that an important part of their job is their ability to work together and have a good relationship. The nurse’s office sees approximately 50 students a day, Santiago said of a typical day at Kingsway, “It’s busy, we see easy things, we also see some very difficult things…”. 

The nurses have seen faints, PE injuries, and illness. This can even happen after school… sometimes they have a slow day, and sometimes they have a rapid-fire day running between classrooms and the nurse’s office. 

Recently, Santiago and Neal have experienced their most difficult challenge yet: the COVID-19 pandemic. Barabara Neal has found that the pandemic has made their work a lot harder, stating, “COVID has affected the job greatly because we became contact tracers, and had to put aside the normal work we have to do, and because of this we are behind on the paperwork that we are supposed to be doing…”. The nurses both feel bad because, with their busy schedules and full plates, they sometimes have to leave school with some unfinished work. They also stated that student care always comes first.

The pandemic has made their work more complicated because they have to work on contact tracing. This aspect of Santiago and Neal’s job is very tedious and time-consuming, which makes it harder to do their other tasks. Neal said that COVID, “…pushed us out of our comfort zone”. To learn how to contact trace, Santiago and Neal had to take a course at John Hopkins so they could be prepared for students returning to school last September. 

The nurses received a lot of support from the administration, and specifically, Dr. James Lavender. They said they were very fortunate to have all of the support that they did. They were so glad they could meet so many people, and help students in dealing with the pandemic. 

Kingway has changed a lot since the nurses started working here. Class sizes have increased, and all classes now take place inside of the main building rather than in detached trailers. The one thing they say hasn’t changed? The students.

A change that has only started showing in recent years is the increase of students seen for mental health. This increase is largely because of COVID, and students suffering from the unknownness of the disease.

Santiago and Neal both believe that the world still has a long way to go before returning completely back to normal. They say that the switch to virtual learning was hard for students who preferred that type of learning and now have to adjust back to complete in-person learning once more. The nurses have also learned to expect the unexpected with the pandemic.

To return to a pre-pandemic world, they stress that students need to continue to wear their masks. They have seen so many students disregarding masks in recent weeks, and understand that it is hard for students to wear them throughout the day, but Santiago and Neal also want to remind students that if they need to take their masks off they can come to the nurse’s office where there is an appropriate area to do so. Wearing masks is about protecting others, not just yourself. They hope if everyone makes an effort to do their part, we can see a reduction in cases and turn the corner on COVID.

Santiago tries to keep her work and home life separate, and with a long drive home, is able to listen to music and decompress from a stressful day at work. Once at home, she walks her dog and loves to knit, crochet, and go camping. Often Santiago will sit on her porch with tea: knitting and crocheting.

Neal after work likes spending time with her family and her cats. She likes to read books and has recently read The Glass Castle. On TV, she watches a lot of Food Network and enjoys baking.

The nurses do a lot of work and students, staff, and parents should thank them for all that they do around the school.