When Lisa Geronimo graduated from Gateway High and headed off to Dominican University as a pre-med student in 2011, she almost certainly couldn’t have imagined her professional path would take her right back where she started. But a decade later, Lisa is serving Gateway Public Schools as Health and Safety Coordinator, where her considerable expertise has been keeping students and staff safe through the transition back to in-person learning.
“My favorite thing about this work is knowing I’m making a difference,” she said. “Being able to give kids peace of mind so they can focus on school is a very heartwarming feeling.”
Longtime Gateway families may recognize Lisa’s name not only as a former student, but a former teacher as well, as she taught math at GHS in the 2015-16 school year, exploring a career as a classroom educator after many years of working with youth while in college. Ultimately, however, her passion for public health won out and she left to pursue her Master's degree at Tufts University in Boston, specializing in infectious diseases and global health.
“The move to Boston was a big change since the only time I had seen snow before was in high school on Mr. Woolgar’s sledding trip,” she said, laughing. “But I loved the program because I could immerse myself in learning about global health problems. For me, learning about health and medicine is fascinating on its own, but if I’m not using that knowledge to do something like help stop the spread of disease, the knowledge is almost pointless.”
After working in the pharmaceutical field for several years, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Lisa to change course, and she became a public health investigator for Marin County distributing vaccines, educating the public, and more to keep the community safe. Over the summer, she began working with Gateway as well, consulting about plans for safely re-opening and liaising between the school and public health officials. What was initially a short-term consulting role quickly turned into a full time job.
“It turns out reopening schools after a pandemic is very, very complex,” she said. “There was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty at first. We knew to expect some cases, but didn’t know what ‘normal’ would be: ten a day? Ten a week? Fortunately it’s been much lower than that: we’ve only had five cases total, completely unrelated to each other, which is amazing and proof that everyone is doing their part.”
For comparison, SFUSD, which serves 55,000 students, has seen 618 total cases since the school year resumed. Gateway serves 800 students across two schools. Bay Area schools generally compare favorably to their state and national counterparts in terms of reported cases.
As the year progresses, Lisa works closely with faculty and students to adapt school activities to comply with public health regulations, answer student and family health questions, track public health data and more – her role continuing to evolve along with the community’s public health needs.
“When the pandemic hit, I felt like I was someone who was in a position to actually do something about it,” she said. “And being at Gateway, I can make an even bigger difference because I’ve become someone parents and kids know they can trust.”
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