Tell us about yourself!
I live in Brooklyn and just moved here two months ago from Boston. I work in policy at the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE); I started about a month and a half ago after moving to the city.
What is it like to work at the NYCDOE with everything going on right now?
I feel I have a really cool story to tell about how city employees are adjusting to COVID-19. When everything started happening, New York City eventually closed all public schools. The NYCDOE offered the opportunity for those of us who work in central offices to volunteer at Regional Enrichment Centers (RECs). The RECs are located throughout the city to help with remote learning and childcare for students PreK through 12th grade whose parents are first responders, essential city employees, and healthcare workers living and/or working in New York City. Families fill out a form online and can send their children to the closest REC in their area. I’m an Assistant Site Supervisor, so what that means is that I create staff schedules and rotations, assist with parent drop off/pick up, timekeeping, attendance, and inventory. I also set up and supervise the students’ remote learning plans with help from the teachers and paraprofessionals on staff. We provide three meals a day and have supplemental learning tools here for classrooms as well as supplies for Physical Education, art, and music. It functions just like a school, except we don’t typically create lesson plans because students bring in their own assignments through remote learning. The site where I work is P.S. 180 in Central Harlem. This is the first ever managerial role I have had in a professional setting, and I found out that I was assigned the night before I started! It’s really important to have representation across the NYCDOE at REC sites because we possess a variety of skill sets. Coming from my department, I understand building utilization, accessibility, funding, and capacity, which can be beneficial for helping supervise a REC school site. I am working as an Assistant Site Supervisor for a REC in addition to my current job at the NYCDOE. It has been the wildest and quickest onboarding process!
What is a typical day for you with your work for the NYCDOE and the new REC site as a supervisor?
I start my workday from home at 9am for my policy job at the NYCDOE. I work from home until about 11am. Then from 11:00am to about 12:20-12:30pm is my commute from Brooklyn to Harlem via the subway. Then, I work from 12:30pm to 6:30pm in person at the REC site. Roughly every half hour, I supervise the rooms and make sure all staff and children are in attendance and on schedule. I will bring students and staff any needed supplies as well as their meals, and I check to make sure that students aren’t having any behavioral problems. Then, I go back to the front of the REC site and do some work for my primary role at the NYCDOE. Halfway through the shift as well as at the end of the day, we submit attendance records and REC staff timesheets. It is a very busy day, but I make it work. Part of being a good public servant is being able to rise to the occasion when our students most need us.
For these children of first responders who might be experiencing some anxiety, what kinds of tools and resources does the REC provide?
The schedule that we created for students has built-in time slots to help take care of their physical and mental health. We have scheduled time for stretch and movement, wellness, meditation, and plenty of Physical Education time built into the day. We want the kids to really be able to get up and stay active. One of our goals is to try to help students through this trauma because not only is it a difficult time for them to be separated from their peers, but also for their parents who are really on the frontlines of fighting this virus. It’s a harsh reality for the families of these first responders that yes, their parents are superheroes, but that also comes with a greater chance of bringing the virus home with them after their shift ends. We also try to provide bigger picture lessons for the children. We wanted our center to have a sense of structure along with consistent protocols to provide a sense of rigorous routine. Our staff works well together but we also hold each other to high standards. For us, this isn’t just some volunteer gig, this is a full-time job. We want the children to know that they have people who care about them and are looking out for them in a world that has completely changed overnight. It’s important for us to make this a safe space and a place that feels as normal as we can possibly make it.
How is the word getting out about the RECs?
At first, we had pretty low enrollment for various reasons. Many people did not know about the sites, but we have put in a concerted effort online and on social media to get the word out as much as we could. If parents are part of their workers’ unions, which all NYPD, firefighter and healthcare workers are in some capacity, the DOE has been posting information through those avenues. The NYCDOE has sent email blasts, made numerous phone calls, and has been in touch with local schools. In addition, some people are still wondering if RECs are safe. Every week, we spend some time calling families on our enrollment lists who have enrolled but not yet sent their children. During our calls, we give the families all of the information about safety precautions and logistics about what we provide here on a daily basis. Currently, we have 61 students enrolled, and this number has been growing every day. This week, we expect our site to grow as another center in the area merged with ours a few days ago.
For families who are worried about safety with social distancing, what do the sites offer to keep everyone safe?
All REC sites are staffed with nurses, and ideally, we will begin to have multiple nurses on site for each shift. As soon as any students and staff enter the building, they have a wellness check from a nurse including having their temperature taken; if anyone has a fever of over 100.4°Fahrenheit, they are turned away. We have two isolation rooms for kids who aren’t feeling well for any reason. We enforce CDC Guidelines of maintaining six feet of physical distance, and most of us wear gloves and masks. We constantly spray surfaces with disinfectant to keep the site clean. We have a very strict protocol of wiping down tables and washing hands between meals and shifts. Most importantly, at the end of every day, we have custodial staff who disinfect and deep clean everything. It can feel difficult at times when working with children, but I feel confident that we are doing everything in our power to keep everyone safe.
Any highlights or memories that stand out?
Last week, the NYCDOE decided not to merge our site with another center, and it helped to validate that our hard work is paying off and the systems we have put in place are working. We have an amazing site with great staff, and when you walk into our REC, you can feel the positivity and strong sense of team culture. All of us on staff trust in each other and the scheduled routine we have put into place. We also have an amazing operations support staff who is at the site for the full day from 7am to 6:30pm. Nothing is perfect, but we are all in 100%. This is a place where kids want to come each day and a place where they feel safe.
How have you personally been taking care of yourself while being on the frontlines in the RECs?
I live alone in Brooklyn, and due to my level of exposure with taking the subway to commute to my REC site, I have to self-quarantine at home when I’m not working and cannot visit friends or family. I hold myself to a pretty rigorous self-care routine. I try to read, draw, and run every day so that I don’t end up just watching TV for hours. I also FaceTime a lot and am always trying to stay in touch with people. I’m honestly pretty happy right now, and I think that keeping to this schedule has worked for me.
Any parting words?
I am in an amazing position where I am able to make a difference and leave my house each day as an essential city worker. There are a lot of people who are not necessarily essential to the structure of the city at this current moment, but I want those people to know that their role is just as important! Staying home right now is critical, and honestly so much harder than what I have to do. People who are staying home and working from 9 to 5 are doing their part and that is key right now. It means the world to see people posting about staying home and showing their support. Working parents in particular are superheroes for staying home all day while juggling work and taking care of their families. It’s really freaking hard to be cooped up in your house all day! We appreciate everyone who is coming together and doing their part in their own way. We are grateful to everyone for staying home so that we can do our job!