'We're just making it work': Culver Schools support staff become backbone of reopening

NOW: ’We’re just making it work’: Culver Schools support staff become backbone of reopening

CULVER, Ind. - Culver Community School’s support staff are working extra hard to keep your children safe. This week, we’re giving you an inside look behind the scenes at how food services, counseling and maintenance teams jobs have changed because of this pandemic.

Identifying the hustle and bustle it takes to keep students safe and keep schools open.

"This morning getting off the bus, we had a kindergartener and a first grader walking off together. And they go to give each other a hug goodbye for the day, and they both stopped like mid air hug, and then went for the elbows and they're like, have a great day and moved on with their day. So our kids, they're resilient. And they're adapting to the change and they're doing a great job," Erika James, the Social-Emotional and Academic Learning Coordinator said. “I think sometimes kids can adapt to change better than we can.”

"Knowing that the numbers were below that threshold that the county looks at for closure, we're like, we're gonna go, we're gonna make this happen," Karen Shuman, Culver Community Schools Superintendent said.

Reopening is no small task but after speaking to local health departments, other superintendents and parents, Shuman said going back to in-person was the right decision for the district.

“We have about 80 students who have chosen to stay at home and receive it online. And then we have the rest of our student body that are here in their classes," she said. “So the biggest thing throughout the summer, we met every Tuesday to talk through what do we know now and what plan do we need to make in order so that we come back safe."

"We're probably around 40, 45 maybe. And we used to be close to 100 150," Gretchen Johnson, the Food Service Director said.

Breakfast and lunchtimes have changed and for Johnson, that means her daily job has too.

"The basic thing is just the seats, making sure everybody's separated. And then going through, we've sat two lunch hours. And we've now stretched that out to four to accommodate smaller groups in here. So now we have to go in between each time and sanitize all the chairs and all the seats and tables," she said.

This fall school year looks much different than last year.

"Last year, we allow the students that are at the middle and high school to serve themselves. So it's more like a buffet style. This no longer can happen. So we as our staff members are doing it for them," Johnson said.

And the transition hasn't always been easy.

"It has been chaos. At first. We are in a better mode right now. We have went to individual wrapped packages of food versus you know, just being able to prepare it and send it out. We've had to do a lot of brown bagging things go to items that are grab and go versus more home cooked meals," she said. "For lunch, instead of doing fruit and veggie bar, we used to have a fresh fruit and veggie bar every day that the kids could go through and pick their own fruits and veggies. Now everything is an individual cups. And they have to just choose one. And you know, and then we have to hand it to them what they want.

Not having certain food, can affect what students are eating. It's something Johnson said she's worried about.

“I feel that they're probably not getting as much as they used to get because they just can't get all of it on and we don't have as many choices and options," she said.

But she said they are adjusting well with what they have.

"We're just making it work," she said. "We all work together. We're a big team here.”

As schools reopen, sanitization efforts and overall cleanliness have inevitably increased.

"Anytime students are in a common area in the hallways and the restrooms, on buses there to wear a mask and we've had it's amazing compliance with our students, they are all on board," Shuman said.

It's something Mike Garland the Building Maintenance Director is overtaking.

“Being a small school everybody jumps in because everyone wants to be here," Garland said.

Garland is going on his second year at Culver Community Schools and because of the pandemic, his job has changed too.

"With COVID, it makes it very important because a good filtration system on the school makes it easier to go through," he said.

Before the pandemic, it was the basic clean.

“It was just basic restroom common areas covered in that in that aspect hallways, lockers, your trash your daily routine, but we have we picked it up a little bit because you have to do the doorknobs, pencil sharpeners, chairs desk. So everything has to be wiped off," he said.

But that has all changed.

“Right now it's just making sure everything gets done, that you do, things that are being touched, you have to make sure you do that several times during the day where before it might have been one time. Now you have to do it several times to make sure everything's clean," Garland said. "Everything will be done at night. We have one extra custodian at night that goes through. We have 2 one takes the downstairs one takes the upstairs. Everything gets redone. All the desks get sprayed wiped off. Door handles. Windows. Basically more at night is the fine-tune prepared for the next day.”

It's a lot of work but Garland said everyone is working together to make reopening possible.

“We take care of ourselves. So, and we make sure our school system is clean. And I would bring anybody here," he said.

This virus doesn't just affect our physical health but mental. So we went a couple doors down to see how one counselor is fairing.

"Change is hard for everybody," Erika James, the Social-Emotional and Academic Learning Coordinator said. "So, working with our teachers to persevere through those challenges and those changes, has really helped ease their attentions, ease their fears and help with the students as well.”

Her day-to-day job has changed as well.

"Meeting with students looks a lot differently. It actually is working out where teachers are more confined in their meeting with their students more. So our teachers are able to form better relationships with their students. And my need is more supporting teachers helping supporting their students," she said. "It's a lot of connecting teachers with resources. So they have the social-emotional roadmap to re-entry and we're really implementing that at our school.”

It's teaching teachers how to ease students' fears and anxiety.

"There's a lot of really great picture books out right now to share with kids about how it might look different and why we have to wear masks and our students have social emotional lessons once a week. So they've gotten those lessons on how do we wear a mask properly? And how are we doing this safely? And that really helps ease a lot of their fears," she said.

James said nobody really thinks about mental health as much but it is very important to address. However, the question of if this pandemic will have negative impacts on students' mental health is still up in the air.

"I think that it absolutely could. I don't know that we've seen all the effects of it yet," she said. “I think it's vital for them to feel safe and the mental health of our students is really important. And our teachers understand that and they've really done a great job of implementing those things.”

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