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Chalkin’ Your Walkin’— Pandemic Edition

Almost any Penn student, alum, staff, or faculty is familiar with the pedestrian- friendly South Street Bridge that connects West Philly to Center City. And if you’re involved in health care—whether attending classes at Penn Nursing or working in CHOP or HUP, it has likely factored heavily in your day-to-day commute.

In pre-pandemic times, it was a road well-travelled by cars, busses, bicycles, and thousands of walkers, hurrying to work or home. But by late March of 2020, when COVID lockdowns swung into full-effect, the bridge’s traffic had dwindled dramatically apart from the odd person trying to get some exercise. The only commuters left were essential workers.

Enter Katie Woo Castelo, MSN, CRNP, Nu’06, GNu’08. A pediatric NP in CHOP’s emergency department, undergraduate nursing clinical instructor at Penn Nursing, and mom of two young children, Katie almost immediately felt the strain of the pandemic. “In the beginning,” she says, “there was so much uncertainty and fear. As a health care worker, we were all anxious as we had no idea what was going to happen. I thought about my colleagues, walking to work with that pit in their stomach and I wanted to do something that would make them smile and feel hopeful.”

In her personal life, Katie found herself on the bridge almost daily as she instituted a one-mile bike or scooter ride for her daughter and son, now ages 6 and 4. She realized that she could use the bridge as a platform to share a little encouragement for her colleagues, with a proverbial perk-of-the-job being a bit of built-in fun for her kids. What started in the spring as a way to share simple messages promoting hope and joy quickly took off. Katie now ‘chalks’ every Monday, weather permitting, during her daughter’s 45-minute lunch break from virtual first grade (her son attends preschool in-person). While her children used to be more involved in the process, her daughter now eats lunch from the sidelines—though will occasionally jump in to add a little bit of flair.

A planner at heart, Katie finds herself constantly thinking about what she’ll write next, mining Pinterest and crowd-sourcing ideas through her popular Instagram account, @chalkinyourwalkin. From messages like “Do What You Love, Love What You Do,” inspired by the day in late August that students learned they could do in-person clinicals again, to those that take on a more political- tone such as a salute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Katie looks forward to getting out on the bridge every week.

It’s fair to say that Katie gets joy from spreading joy. And in the case of her chalk messages—as well as her work at CHOP and Penn Nursing—she does so in spades, all while building community as well. “I’ll be chalking, and someone will walk by and say ‘thank you so much’ or ‘I work in the ICU at HUP and you can’t imagine how much I looked forward to this every week.’ We’ve met neighbors and made new friends. It turns out we’ve really been connecting with people.”

These days, while less fearful at work, Katie still takes the time to put a positive spin on things. For example, because nurses are in such demand, her graduating seniors are having early success in securing job placements. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Katie is optimistic about a post-pandemic future


To see more of Katie’s chalk messages, you can follow her on Instagram @chalkinyourwalkin, and if you want to suggest a message, feel free to DM her there!