WENATCHEE - Adriana Vanbianchi, school nurse for the Methow Valley School District, has received the 2021 regional classified school employee of the year award.

Tina Nicpan-Brown, Wenatchee, was named 2022 regional teacher of the year for North Central Educational Service District. They are eligible for state honors through the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

From the age of 19 and working at a drug rehab center for homeless kids in Nicaragua, Vanbianchi has dedicated her career to improving the health of other people, said an ESD announcement.

Vanbianchi credits her value for human health and equity, along with her experience working various jobs -- like a wilderness instructor for at-risk youth, firefighter and an emergency room nurse, for preparing her to lead Methow Valley School District during a pandemic.

“Overall, my job is about ensuring the health and well-being of students and staff,” Vanbianchi said. “Being a school nurse during the pandemic is an undertaking that I wouldn’t have wished on anyone, but I have to admit, I have enjoyed the challenge because I know what a difference our school makes in the lives of our students, community and economy.”

Methow Valley School District opened its schools for in-person learning or remote learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

“Feedback from our community showed us that we should commit to a safe in-person school year,” Vanbianchi said. “School staff immediately convened to figure out how we would do this unprecedented work. We all had different areas of expertise and mine was sharply focused on the health and safety of my community.”

Vanbianchi was asked to keep students and staff safe, inform the community, develop a COVID testing program, do contact tracing and more, said Liberty Bell High School Matt Hinckley, who nominated Vanbianchi.

“What we’ve been able to do - teach students in-person - would be impossible without Adriana’s competence, hard work and dedication,” Hinckley said. “When positive cases happened in the community, her diligent contact tracing and the trust that families put in her prevented school outbreak. When questions about vaccine availability swirled, she pushed for access in our isolated, rural community.”

The Methow Valley is one of the largest rural regions in Washington, which means health care services are often far and few between, said the ESD. Vanbianchi quickly got to work leveraging leadership, resources and community support.

“In January when the news announced that school staff wouldn’t be eligible for the vaccine, I started with advocacy by writing letters to Washington political leaders championing the argument that school staff should be vaccinated,” Vanbianchi said. “My next step was to lean into the resources, so in collaboration with our local EMS service, hospitals and clinics, I took a leadership role in organizing vaccination clinics for in-phase community members.”

Within four days of school staff becoming eligible for the vaccine, 85 percent of Methow Valley School District school staff received one or more doses of their COVID vaccine. But Vanbianchi credits this effort to the partnerships she has fostered over the past year.

She made partnerships with local clinics to provide testing and medical consultation with their medical directors. With the help of Winthrop Kiwanis Club members, hand-washing stations were built for all three school campuses.

In addition, Vanbianchi engaged the local EMS agency through weekly meetings which led to more access to testing and vaccination clinics, said the announcement. To date, these partnerships have resulted in thousands of vaccinations given in school district gymnasiums.

Vanbianchi said she hopes the past year demonstrated the value of clinical leadership inside school buildings.

“During a normal school year it can be easy to forget the importance of the school nurse,” she added. “My hope is that people see my work as a school nurse as something that mobilizes people and resources to tackle tough challenges and thrive.”

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