WORKING TOGETHER: Support staffers spend time constructing and organizing students’ saliva kits. (Olivia Shirk)
WORKING TOGETHER: Support staffers spend time constructing and organizing students’ saliva kits.

Olivia Shirk

Month of kindness: recognizing jobs around the school, their fight against COVID-19

February 27, 2021

We’ve heard the stories of obstacles with teaching, athletics, and academics, but what often goes unrecognized are those who work behind the scenes. The value and work of staff members in the building goes far beyond those in charge of our GPA. 

As February has been deemed DGN’s month of kindness, it’s a time to recognize all types of staff members as they work to adjust to keep the school up and running. Supervisors, support staff, and the building and grounds crew have all had to adapt just as much as the students and teachers we interact with daily. While juggling sanitation, construction, and safety, these individuals do their best to keep this unprecedented school atmosphere functioning as smoothly as possible. 

Maintaining the building

The pandemic and the importance of sanitation aren’t the only daily reminders of change in the building; the ongoing construction and development of the Master Facility Plan are a new aspect of education as well. 

Michelle Cannan is the Supervisor of the Building and Grounds crew and one of the leaders when it comes to the school renovation. 

“During the construction phase I coordinate work that’s being done with our architects, engineers, and the various trades,” Cannon said. “The pandemic added another element to the day in making sure we had a plan in place to disinfect before, during, and after students occupy a classroom [or] space. We also need to make sure spaces are set up and marked to maintain social distancing.”

SOCIAL DISTANCE: Custodians were tasked to position each desk to follow the six-feet-apart protocol. (Gretchen Lucina )

Cannon is in charge of the two groundsmen, five maintenance workers, and the 18 custodians employed around the school. Since the pandemic began, one of her top priorities is disinfecting the school to make the safest environment possible.

“The changes [I] noticed since the pandemic revolve around working as a team to make sure that [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems are all functioning at optimal levels to ensure fresh air,” Cannon said. 

Paul Scott is a janitor that works within Cannon’s team to maintain school sanitation. His day-to-day work is somewhat similar to pre-pandemic times, but there’s an additional focus on certain responsibilities. 

“With the pandemic situation, my job responsibilities are focused on air quality and air exchange as well as my regular duties. The maintenance department is changing filters more often,” Scott said.  

The building and maintenance crews have had to establish new cleaning procedures and protocols to focus on the constant disinfection of surfaces and highly touched items. These adaptations include room-by-room cleaning and set-up to ensure socially distant spaces. 

Even with the new protocols, the change to remote and hybrid learning has benefitted the construction and sanitation efforts. 

“When staff and students left in March, we had a logistical plan in place for classrooms and offices to pack-up by the end of May so that construction could take place over the summer,” Cannon said.  “When we realized school was remote for the rest of 2019-20, the construction timeline moved up.” 

Regardless of the number of people in the building, the janitors and maintenance workers still need to maintain equipment at all times. With fewer students and staff occupying the classrooms, school maintenance has been easier to keep up with.

“We are able to complete more detailed projects when there are fewer people in the building. These projects include painting, in-depth repairs on HVAC equipment, cleaning, and organizing,” Scott said. 

School nurses battle COVID-19

Although not necessarily on the front lines when it comes to COVID-19 treatment, the school nurses at DGN have worked tirelessly to maintain a safe learning environment.

“The contact tracing involved with COVID-19 has required a great deal of manpower and follow-up,” school nurse Mary Beth Tamm said. “Almost every day we are on webinars with [the Illinois Department of Public Health] and other related medical organizations to keep up with the evolving developments of the pandemic.”

When students were in the fully remote environment, nurses were busy processing physicals and immunization records, as well as setting up their temporary nurse’s office in the fine arts wing.

ADJUSTING TO CONSTRUCTION: The new nurses’ office had to be moved into the old Alumni room, across from the fine arts wing. Coincidentally, the larger room allows for improved student safety. (Gretchen Lucina)

“We were moved out of our old office in March 2020 and our office was boxed up and put into a classroom. It took considerable time to reorganize that space and get ready for students,” Tamm said. 

Contact tracing has been one of the major responsibilities of the school nurses during the pandemic. With students in and out of school for classes and athletics, it has become a time-consuming practice. 

“We follow up on the sick calls that come into attendance to screen for COVID-19 symptoms and [give advice] about next steps if isolation, quarantine, or testing is indicated,” Tamm said. “We are also involved with athletics in that we meet daily with the trainers to make sure that we are protecting athletes and following contact tracing procedures.”

Even with the additional responsibilities the school nurses have taken on, Tamm sees a silver lining. 

“COVID-19 has highlighted the critical need for solid science and technology. This novel virus has allowed the whole world to see science in action. The importance of public health cannot be underestimated,” Tamm said.      

COVID-19 has highlighted the critical need for solid science and technology. This novel virus has allowed the whole world to see science in action. The importance of public health cannot be underestimated.

— Mary Beth Tamm


Student supervisors…with no students?

The job of a student supervisor consists of monitoring the cafeteria, study rooms, and hallways. During remote learning, when there were no students to supervise, these workers’ responsibilities were altered to help out as best as they could.

Lending a hand wherever she could, student supervisor Denise Ihde had to complete a multitude of tasks during the first semester of remote learning.

“We did any special task that needed to be done. At the beginning of the year, this included making supply boxes, unpacking boxes for the new culinary room, putting saliva kits together, and delivering lunches for students in the lunch program,” Ihde said. 

Now, with the hybrid schedule, Student supervisor Claudia Arredia believes their top priority is ensuring that students follow the safety guidelines to minimize the spread of COVID-19. 

“We limit when and how many people can be in the bathrooms in order to protect students and staff from possibly spreading the coronavirus. We make sure masks and shields are worn properly by everyone to keep us all safe,” Arredia said. “There are fewer students in the school now but we remain diligent in enforcing safety measures so we all stay healthy and keep our families safe.”

Changes in positions among support staffers

District 99 support staff was forced to get creative when certain jobs had to be revised due to a remote environment. 

With no one needing access to the pool, support staff member and pool supervisor Cole Cade was moved into a classroom to help teachers navigate a remote environment.

“Before the virus, my main job was to oversee all classes within the pool. I would instruct the student lifeguards on what their duties for the periods were, assist Coach Haack in the lifeguard training class, and teachers with swim-stroke instruction,” Cade said. “With students being remote, my job has transitioned to me assisting in classrooms.” 

Although the change has proved challenging at times, Cade has taken this opportunity to advance his career. 

“I have worked in pools for the last 10 years and was comfortable with the role I had. After taking a little time to understand my new duties, I have come to enjoy the experience. I am currently taking classes to obtain my teaching licensure, and the experience that I have received in the classroom this year is priceless,” Cade said. 

Support staff member Christain Acuña is responsible for helping students in the TV and radio classes. Like many of his coworkers, he has had to adapt to his new position.

“My new responsibilities include assisting teachers who are working remotely by taking attendance, helping students log on to their Zoom class, and just making sure that everyone is following safety procedures,” Acuña said. 

Before the pandemic he spent his time filming assemblies, helping students edit their projects, and operating the equipment in the radio room. Now, he finds it challenging to complete what he used to. 

“The transition has been a bit difficult at times. A lot of the work that I normally do is in-person and involves interacting with both students and staff. My main takeaway from this experience is to learn to adapt and get creative,”  Acuña said. 


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