Northshore Staff Pivot to Support Student and Staff Well-Being

District staff helping students learn safety protocols

During the global pandemic, the importance of fostering relationships, creating connections and keeping one another safe has been paramount. Earlier, we shared the story of staff pivoting to temporarily take on new roles to assist families and staff during the pandemic. Recently, more staff have pivoted from their typical positions to champion this work in new ways through the Bridge Week Team and Team Vaccine.  

Bridge Week Team

“I had the opportunity to sit on the buddy bench with a student that I had gotten to know over the day while we played games. Two other students came and joined us and we started comparing Harry Potter books to the movies,” said Katie Bjornstad, who is an assistant principal on special assignment that supports the District with online learning. “This student was new to the school so I said look you’ve met two new friends, and she said to me ‘No, I’ve met three.’ I asked her who is the third and she said ‘You, you’re my friend!’ I about cried -- it was so sweet.”

This memorable moment was one of many made during Northshore’s Bridge Weeks and connections like this are one of the numerous rewards of coming back together to support students and staff after a year of distance learning.

Students outside on the Fernwood playground

Bjornstad is one of four staff members who pivoted from their usual roles to lead the implementation of Bridge Week training and activities to ensure a smooth transition back to buildings. She, along with Assistant Principal on Special Assignment, Megan Bernicchi, Assistant Director of Equity Pedagogy, Melissa Riley and Director of Accelerated Models and Programs, Amity Butler led the training and implementation of the practices that would be used by staff districtwide during Bridge Weeks. 

These four, who are all former classroom teachers, brought to life the work that Northshore elementary principals and Chief Leadership & Strategy Officer, Tracy Meloy, Ed.D. put together to conceptualize the Bridge Week activities. Some of these included implementing positive behavior expectation stations with the new health and safety measures for students and different playground activities that could ensure students would engage and have fun, in a safe way.

Staff and students standing outside on a basketball court, learning how to social distance

The implementation team aimed to “create an opportunity to welcome students back in an as inclusive and inviting way as possible so that students could regain, reconnect or develop a sense of belonging upon arriving at school,” said Riley. “We wanted to acknowledge the fact that they've been away from the traditional classroom building for a year and try to reacclimate them to school, but also do it in a way that helps them understand that some of the ways that they used to do school have changed, and that's about their safety, security and their protection.”

Training sessions were created for all YMCA and Champions childcare navigators, as well as leadership staff districtwide who would be at schools during Bridge Weeks, helping students learn the new games, safety measures and processes for returning to schools. 

“In order to pull Bridge Week off the page we had to include so many people from across the District,” said Riley. “That meant that serendipitously and unexpectedly adults in the District who hadn't seen each other for over a year got to see each other in-person for the first time. It created that same sense of community and that same level of excitedness that we were training them to provide to the students. It's a reminder that we're more a team, and more together than we know, even though we've been apart.”

Staff during Bridge Week

In the first few days of Bridge Weeks there were already successes and noticeable impact. 

“There was excitement to get back to school. It's been really special to see their little smiling faces underneath their masks.” said Bjornstad. “They are so excited to see their friends, just like the adults did the same thing when we went to training, we're all so excited to see people face to face.”

Butler shared, “students learned a lot about social distancing, which many students really already had that notion down, the act is much more difficult. Students are really well versed with why they need to follow the safety rules. They know that they shouldn't share their mask, they shouldn’t spread their germs, and they don't want to cough on anybody.”

Some adjustments were made during week one of Bridge Week, after realizing two hours was a bit too long for students to go with no breaks. Butler created breaks for students by reading books to them, something she used to do as a classroom teacher. 

“Nothing is better than reading a good book to children because you can make it whatever you want,” she said. “And the students enjoy it. I have read a lot of books in my time so that has rescued me over and over, and it did again today.”

Bernicchi feels fulfilled in her role in Bridge Week. She said, “For me being part of Bridge Week means being part of our Northshore community. It's been wonderful to be out at schools in-person, connecting with everybody on the ground to support this big transition - a big transition for students and staff alike.” Bernicchi has also been instrumental by pivoting her work to lead the implementation of safety signage at all buildings, as well as helping create  processes for the rollout of the District’s daily Health Check form. 

While the pivot has meant additional work, it is work that is beneficial and meaningful, said Riley. “It's another example of a really complex year that we've had in the midst of COVID, where things are really challenging, but because kids are at the center, or in this case,kids arriving back to school is what is on the other side of the bridge for me -- so it's all work worth doing.”

Team Vaccine

Angie Hancock and Kirstin Briefs on Zoom

With the well-being of staff in mind, Team Vaccine was created with the District’s Data Analyst for Highly Capable and Business Analyst for Technology, Angie Hancock, along with Lockwood Elementary Fifth Grade Teacher, Kirstin Briefs, and Patsy Treece, a recently retired registered nurse and community volunteer. Together, the three members of Team Vaccine found ways to get vaccine opportunities to all Northshore staff.

Prior to being in the classroom, Briefs was in the private sector for nearly 18 years. Given her background in project management related to the medical field, paired with her experience as a Northshore educator, she became the lead for Team Vaccine.

Not surprised by how quickly the team coordinated mass vaccination opportunities, Briefs said, ”When you put decisive, effective and efficient people together, there's nothing we can’t do. That's what Northshore is built on, decisive, effective and efficient people.”

Treece, a former Northshore parent and a nurse by profession, was part of these early efforts with her expertise tapped by looking for any and all immunization opportunities. 

Immunization efforts evolved over time from finding 50 spots at one pharmacy and 40 slots at another location, to partnering with the Everett Clinic and other vaccine providers to source and prioritize appointments for Northshore staff. 

With her data analyst expertise, Hancock gathers data to find out which staff are in need of vaccine resources to identify what events will meet the greatest needs. She then generates email lists for events as they are finalized and maintains the records of staff opting in and out of vaccine resources.

With an iterative process, the Team has been highly successful in locating and securing immunizations. To date, only 6.2% of Northshore staff who want to be vaccinated still need help finding a first dose, and only 13.8% still need help finding a second dose. 

Briefs credits this work not only to Team Vaccine, but also to a number of other District staff including Health and Nursing Supervisor, Cindy Mato and Superintendent, Michelle Reid, Ed.D.

“When I came on board, we already had several strong points of contact to source vaccines to the Northshore staff, and we just accelerated those opportunities,” said Briefs. “We had a 300+ appointment clinic the first weekend of my onboarding. I supported that clinic in-person, and the clinic was able to capitalize on our organized efforts to use survey and interest polls to extend that vaccination opportunity in real time, ultimately doubling the number of doses given to Northshore staff that same day.”

Dr. Reid and Northshore Education Association President, Tim Brittell were both on-site at that first in-person clinic, with Dr. Reid taking temperatures and Brittell handing out masks to everyone entering the clinic that day.

"The team evolved after the first major vaccination event and developed subsequent opportunities. The team partnered with the King County Vaccine Partnership in Redmond -- a partnership between Microsoft and King County Health -- and with assistance from the Evergreen Health appointment schedulers, to provide vaccine opportunities to our secondary school staff, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) community and school support staff," said Briefs. "Our strong partnerships sourced vaccines to our secondary and tertiary school support staff and substitutes. We were also successful in offering vaccines to Northshore's Career & Technical Education students in the education programs, and our certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in our school programs because they will start clinical rotations in May."

Briefs and Hancock have developed their own sense of community, oftentimes sitting on Zoom together doing their own work until they need to collaborate to efficiently and effectively get a task done.

“Things change very quickly, so something comes in with a new opportunity, more information on an opportunity, or an action for people to take now,” said Hancock. “By sitting online together, we can do things more quickly and to get information out more quickly to the people who need it.”

Treece, Briefs and Hancock all recognize the positive impact their work has on the Northshore community. 

“It's life or death situations, so if we can get our staff vaccinated, then that's potentially staff that won't get sick and that's important. It's a way to help staff get back to the classroom, be healthy and be able to go back out into the world safely, again,” said Hancock.

When asked what she’s enjoyed the most from being part of this team, Treece echoed Hancock’s sentiments and said, “It's feeling like you're a part of something bigger. It’s going to have an impact on people's lives. Because I worked at Harborview for 36 years, and the last year I've seen patients with COVID -- to be able to save someone from that is huge. It's really huge.”

Briefs recognizes her impact and believes it’s truly a Team Northshore effort. 

“I want to share that everyone -- all Northshore staff -- are pivoting,” said Briefs. “Everyone is becoming multiple streams of action and morphing skills into super-powered abilities, and we're all digging and diving deep for those skills. No one person is making the difference - all of us are making the difference.”



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