Adapting, Learning and Thriving: Staff Rise to the Challenge Amidst a Global Pandemic

When Lauren Fasciano’s dream retirement job of being a bus driver took a turn in March due to COVID-19, she knew her skills could still serve the District -- just in a different way. Fasciano quickly transitioned to supporting the District’s Technology Department by answering phone calls for the Help Desk. She is one of many staff in Northshore who pivoted their skills to ensure students, staff and families’ needs continue to be met, especially during the pandemic.

Family Technology Support Hotline

Lauren working from her home office

Lauren Fasciano supporting families from her office

“I’m on the phone a good portion of the day answering live calls. You never know what you’re going to get,” said Fasciano. “It’s pretty rewarding when you can resolve technical issues.”

On average the team is fielding 400-500 calls per month. At the beginning it was closer to 4,500 calls, said Fasciano. The team is not only troubleshooting, but also providing support for families who need devices, hotspots or have connectivity issues. This includes helping eligible families get connected with free internet through Ziply or Comcast/Xfinity.

She reminds some of her callers, “We’re a one-to-one district now and there are devices available,” said Fasciano. “You shouldn’t have to be sharing a device because each child should be on their own device, in their own class, just like they would be in a classroom. It matters to the student’s education -- connectivity.”

Fasciano expressed that it takes a village to do the work, especially right now. What she enjoys most about her role on the Family Tech Support Team is “just being able to help people. Anything you can do to make it a little bit easier is always nice,” she said.

Family Support & Outreach

District staff preparing meals for delivery

District staff preparing meals for pick up and delivery

From Food & Nutrition Services, Tabetha Arellano has also shifted her skills during this time. Under normal circumstances, Arellano is the Kitchen Manager at Woodin Elementary. Now she is providing administrative support to Food & Nutrition Services. Arellano is bilingual and is reaching out to Spanish-speaking families to assist them with free and reduced price meal applications, as well as ensuring that they understand how the meal ordering process works

“I know the language barrier has been a big challenge so I’m helping support families,” said Arellano. Food & Nutrition Services has also been working on translating several documents to better support Northshore families who speak another language than English, she said.

The Department’s goal is to have free and reduced price meal information and other Food & Nutrition Services communications translated to multiple languages. Also, information on the Department’s webpage can be automatically translated for most languages.

Like Fasciano, Arellano knows her work is so important for the Northshore community. 

“I think this work matters because we all are in this pandemic together and in some way or another we all could use some kind of help. Having a free meal is so much help in my opinion because it’s less worrying and planning for parents, and it is more help or support they can give their students for homework,” she said. “Also, I think my outreach is important because everybody should be able to understand and get the same type of support, no matter the language.”

While Arellano misses seeing the students, she still gets a little glimpse of them when she occasionally helps with distribution for the District’s meal program. 

“In reaching out to a family one morning a child asked his mom to say ‘Hi to the lunch lady’ and that just touched my heart,” she said. “There was another time I delivered some meals to a family and the little boy rolled down his window and he said ‘Hi lunch lady!’ It’s just so heartwarming to hear the kids say ‘Hi lunch lady’ and see their smiles and the families smiles -- it’s all about the smiles and getting us all through the pandemic together.”

Warehouse

Chris Sanchez moving pallets of empty milk crates

Chris Sanchez in the Northshore warehouse

Bus Driver Chris Sanchez also misses seeing the students everyday, although he has enjoyed and appreciated the time he is now spending in the District’s Warehouse. 

“It’s the same job everyday, but everyday is really different in what we do,” said Sanchez. 

Some days he will deliver mail to schools across the District, other times he’s receiving mail or organizing the surplus warehouse. Periodically he will also deliver personal protective equipment to schools. At times he will assist with food delivery for the District’s meal program. 

With this broad array of responsibilities, Sanchez has had the opportunity to see the different ways departments interact with Warehouse and Support Services. 

“With Warehouse specifically, you are taking packages to people, you’re delivering things to the kitchens, you’re taking things to custodial, picking things up from custodial and really seeing how Northshore works like a family,” he said.

Sanchez has a food services background that has helped him immensely in excelling in his role. Specifically, the customer service and organization skills have been an asset. While his skills have served him well, he is also learning new things too during this time. For instance, he’s learned how to drive a forklift, something he never thought he’d do and now he can do it pretty confidently, he said. 

Sanchez also recognizes the importance Warehouse puts on communication. He’s learned more about how important communication is, along with the need to communicate differently with different people. He knows that is a big takeaway for him that he’ll remember when he is able to get back to bus driving. 

Grateful for his time at the Warehouse, Sanchez said, “Working in the Warehouse has been cool because although I don’t directly assist the students, I indirectly get to help with things that matter with their education like getting food to the kitchen crews. I get to see the full circle and how the support teams support the students and the rest of the other staff.” 

Food & Nutrition Services Support

Cheryl and Wendy in a school kitchen

Cheryl Brandt (left) and Wendy Armour (right)

Canyon Creek Elementary’s Cook Manager, Cheryl Brandt has worn a number of hats during this time of distance learning, in an effort to provide support for the Food & Nutrition Services Department. 

“I’ve been floating to wherever they need help,” she said. 

At the beginning of the school year Brandt spent a couple of days calling families whose students hadn’t logged into school yet. She also helped Curriculum sort new books that needed to be sent out to different classrooms. She has stepped in to manage production kitchens several times since the summer, and is currently managing a kitchen. Nearly every Wednesday, Brandt is at the Warehouse to assist with getting thousands of gallons of milk distributed for the weekly meal packs that are picked up by families through the District’s free meals program. 

“I’ve gotten to see a lot of different parts about how the whole system works, which I don’t usually get exposed to,” she said. “I think that it helps me do my job better if I understand how others work. I think the more knowledge you have the better you are in terms of doing your own part of the job you have.”

Brandt knows the work she is doing is making a difference for families. Her son and daughter-in-law are both ICU nurses. She sees the extra time that they are putting in right now and said, “I just need to feel that I’m doing something to help with this whole situation. It feels good to be doing this and spreading a little light in a time that is really dark for a lot of people.” 

She appreciates that she is also building skills that will help her when she returns to the kitchen. “The biggest thing that I’m developing right now is the flexibility and ability to adapt to change,” she said. “I think that’s always something that will improve your performance no matter what you are doing if you are able to just adapt, be flexible and change direction when you need to.”

Meal & Book Distributions

Families waiting in a socially distanced line to pick up books

Families picking up library books from one of the many stops around Northshore

Flexibility has also been key for Wendy Armour, who typically is a cook assistant who rings up items at the a la carte window at Leota Middle School. She’s been helping cook food for the meals program, as well as package the food and deliver it. 

“There are families out there in our district who need help with food," said Armour. “This also helps have normalcy in their lives because some of the kids really enjoy getting school lunch -- it’s like a comfort for them.”

Additionally, Armour shared the importance of having nutritious food to help with student’s growth and development, along with helping students concentrate on schoolwork.

Most of Armour’s days have been spent helping with the District’s Books on the Bus program, which allows families to preorder books -- fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels and more -- and have them delivered to a nearby bus stop or pick them up curbside at their school. 

Armour will meet the bus driver at a designated school to begin the route and then assist with handing out the books at each stop. 

“It’s really fun being able to see the kids again,” she said. 

Armour worked retail in the past so she knows her customer service experience and empathetic nature has helped her both with meal and book distributions. She also recognizes that this has been a growth opportunity for her. 

While Armour normally works a short shift doing a very specific job, this time has given her not only the opportunity to help other departments, but also grow her knowledge and strength in the Food & Nutrition program as well.

When asked what she has enjoyed most about this change in work, she said that it’s been meeting so many other food service staff and the bus drivers. 

“When you’re in food service and you’re assigned to one kitchen, you don’t always meet everybody else. I’ve met a lot of different people in the District so that’s been really fun -- we’re starting to make different friends.” 

 

 

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