Woman to Watch 2021: Sheila Howley
For as long as she can remember, Londonderry High School Nurse Sheila Howley has had a calling to help people in need.
Howley grew up as the oldest of four children, so she always had the opportunity to practice taking care of others. From this experience, Howley knew nursing would be her destined career.
“I honestly can’t remember ever having any other thoughts of any other careers,” Howley said. “I just knew I was going to take care of people.”
Although Howley has worked here at LHS for over twenty years, her career originally began in St. Joseph’s Hospital. At first she was on the telemetry/orthopedic floor, but later switched to a part time position at a private psychiatric hospital.
Howley enjoyed her time working in different hospitals, but after starting a family, she needed a job that would support her needs.
“Although I loved St. Joe’s, being a young mom, I needed hours that worked better for my family,” Howley said. “ I had a distant connection with the nurse that was [at Londonderry High School] at the time and she called me and talked me into working here part time. She had no help at the time and it was a really busy office. After she called a few times I came in for an interview and I’ve been here ever since.”
After working at LHS, Howley realized how much she loved the setting and working with the younger population.
“My favorite part of the job is working with primarily healthy young people,” Howley said. “I love seeing the growth that takes place in the 4 years that they are here. As sassy as some of them can be some days, working with young people gives me hope.”
From working in a high school for so many years, Howley has been able to see how the students truly are, not just what the media or older generations make them out to be.
“Don’t listen to the news,” Howley said. “[The students] are brilliant, inquisitive, funny, hard working, innovative young people here, and I’m confident in a future they will help shape.”
And not only does Howley appreciate working with the students of LHS, they are thankful for her too.
“The school nurses are very kind,” junior Gabby Tringali said. “They are always ready to help and answer any questions a student has. Big or small issue, they do whatever they can to make you feel better. Lancer Nation appreciates all they do, especially given the pandemic.”
But what Howley has found to be the most positive experience with her time here at LHS is the work she does with “medically fragile students.”
“Working with our more medically fragile students is rewarding because I see their milestones met,” Howley said. “I get to see them being as much a part of our community as they can. I often get close to the families because they are here with us until they are 21 years old. It’s bittersweet for us because they all add their special something to the group and we miss them when they ‘graduate.’’’
There’s more to the LHS nurse’s job than just the surface level tasks that are seen most of the time.
“People think we are the ‘band-aid’ ladies and it’s so much more than that,” Howley said. “Little stressors build up in people’s lives and lead to big problems, being able to assist a family with some concrete problems like identifying resources in the community can make a huge difference.”
Overall, Howley enjoys her job and is grateful for all of the involvements she has been through while at LHS. But, there is one event in particular that stands out to her as her proudest moment.
“If I had to pick one thing, it would be a situation early in my career here when a young lady who had been sexually assaulted was getting bills from the hospital for her exam,” Howley said. “It was in the days before a quick internet search and I made a lot of calls all over the state and managed to find a victims fund that agreed to pay the bill. It was a huge relief for the family and eliminated a reminder of a traumatic incident for the young lady. They were thankful, and I felt I’d made a positive difference. I don’t think anyone but the family and myself knew about it. There are many situations similar to that. And I know many school nurses that have stories that are similar.”
Though there are large events like this that Howley remembers and is thankful for, she is also thankful for every connection she has with students.
“Although we get recognized in some bigger ways which is fun for everyone,” Howley said, “what means the most is when I bump into someone in a grocery store and they give me a hug and thank me for something I said or did for them that they found helpful. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference for many people.”
Especially during the hard times of the pandemic that everyone is facing, appreciation and support in ways like Howley mentioned could mean a lot.
“There has been nothing like this in modern history,” Howley said. “I am doing a lot more administrative tasks now. Following up with families and making sure we are following all the guidelines we have to follow to keep everyone as safe as possible in our building. I have to say I’m so proud of how well the majority of our students have pivoted and taken it all in stride. I wish there was a more supportive climate for our teachers who have been working extra hours, incredibly hard, to try to make this all work.”
The school nurses are working hard to ensure the safety of all the students and staff, so it’s upsetting for Howley to see how their work could go unrecognized.
“It makes me sad when I read disparaging comments on social media and elsewhere,” Howley said. “I have seen with my own eyes how hard everyone in this building has worked to get ready last summer and throughout the school year to keep education happening for our students. I never get off my email, and many more meetings in order to keep up with our constantly changing situation. I don’t think the general public has any idea of what it takes to keep moving forward.”
With the unprecedented times of the pandemic, Howley knows students can be struggling and wants to be able to help them in any way possible, and let them know that all of Lancer Nation is there to support them as well.
“I want everyone to know that there are resources available to assist them if they need help,” Howley said. “We have an incredible staff here. Whether it’s extra help in math, someone to vent to about a friend problem, or maybe they have more headaches than usual and would like an eye exam. Approach any adult in this building and they can direct you to the person that can help.”