Forest Avenue School nurse is retiring

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Jackovino
Charlene Reilly, the long-time nurse at Forest Avenue School, is retiring and planning on being a ‘grammy‘ and enjoying going out to lunch.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ – After 28 years in the Glen Ridge School District, Charlene Reilly, a nurse at Forest Avenue School, is retiring.
Reilly was born and raised in the coal mining town of Gilberton, Pa. and attended Mahanoy High School. She co-captained its cheerleader team, wrote for the school newspaper, was president of the Future Teachers of America Club, sang in the school choir and was on the yearbook committee.

She attended Bloomsburg College intending to work with special education children, but after two and a half years, transferred to a three-year nursing program at Ashland State General Hospital.
“I fell in love with nursing while working in nursing homes during my first two summers after high school,” she said.

She came from a working-class family and Reilly acknowledged her concern switching to nursing because college had cost her parents a lot of money.

“They were very supportive,” she said. “My mother and father said nursing was my passion and I’d never waste my college credits.”
As it turned out, she never did, but nursing did seem like the natural choice for Reilly. Her mother was an operating room technician, her older sister was a nurse, as was an aunt, and a brother-in-law was a veterinarian.
She met her future husband, Robert, during spring break, 1973, in Daytona Beach, Fla. He was six years older and lived in Glen Ridge. He became an attorney and they have three children.

“We dated long-distance for three years,” she said. “There were gas shortages at the time, I didn’t have a car and he borrowed his grandmother’s.”

But, she said, there was always the dormitory phone booth that required exact change.
They married about a week after her nursing school graduation and moved to Ashland Avenue, in Bloomfield. During that time, Reilly worked as an RN at Mountainside Hospital. Two years later, she moved to Glen Ridge, living on Hawthorne Avenue and then Oxford Street. In 1995, she had a son with Down’s Syndrome. The same year, Forest Avenue opened a class for children with special needs. Reilly said she knew there was another Glen Ridge child, a girl, with Down’s Syndrome and she received a call from the school district’s director of special needs who asked if she would be the girl’s paraprofessional at Forest Avenue. Reilly agreed.

“I began working with her and other children with special needs that year and did that for 12 years,” she said.
During those dozen years, the Forest Avenue School nurse was Janice Loschiavo. Reilly, an RN, said if ever she wanted to replace Loschiavo after she retired, she would need a special certificate. Consequently, Reilly attended Caldwell College for her teacher of health and school nurse certificate.

In 2007, Loschiavo retired and Reilly became the school nurse. While serving as the school nurse, Reilly and a kindergarten teacher, Diana Bendin, wrote what she called three “big” grants on childhood obesity through Mountainside Hospital. Both women also returned to school for their master degrees. Reilly attended New Jersey City University for a masters in school health.

Over the years, she said school nursing has changed. There are more laws and increased awareness of allergies, sugar consumption and CPR use.

“The role of the school nurse is constantly expanding,” she said. “Most people think it’s putting on bandaids and ice. But we’re the critical people so that everybody, including staff, remains healthy and safe. We’re the only medically trained person on staff. We know complexities and physical and mental wellness and how that impacts learning.”

Reilly said she did not want to retire during the pandemic, but wanted to see it through. She would advise a young person interested in school nursing to consider it only if they could enjoy every day because time passes so quickly.

“And you have to stay current,” she added. “I’m an advocate for networking with other nurses. You don’t stay current by sitting in your office.”

Looking back, she said she really did use those college credits her parents assured her she would; she used them when she applied to Caldwell College. And she did what she wanted to do all along: nurse and teach.
She said she has no immediate plans for retirement except to be the “grammy” who picks up her grandchildren from school and maybe go out for lunch again because as a nurse, she could not leave the school building.

“I’m retiring with contentment in my head,” she said, “having fulfilled my personal and private goals.”
And her mantra remains, “Stay calm, smile often and let children know they are valued.”