By Wendy Lawrence, Inspire Contributor
Lifting each other up is something Eastside Prep staff members do in the best of times, and it turns out to be even more true in the worst of times. The foundation of this group of non-teaching community members has only grown stronger as they have all adjusted to new ways of accomplishing familiar things, and sometimes, creating something new. In doing so, they are demonstrating not only their own resilience, but the resilience of Eastside Prep as a whole.
The staff appreciated how quickly the school transitioned to EPSRemote, and how the safety of the community was always a top priority. Tina Hadden, Administrative Services Director, loved the decisiveness with which actions were determined. “The discussions were long and exhaustive,” she says, but once the decision was made, “the implementation was quick and efficient, the communication timetable was laid out, the technical support was launched. The pivot was quick.” Others echoed that thought. “I was so proud that my school was very likely the first in the nation to take this step,” says Brittany Williams, Executive Assistant to Institutional Advancement.
Staff had to pivot along with the rest of the community. Hadden had to create and maintain a new daily newsletter for the school, something that was universally appreciated. Angie Sharp, Assistant Director of Athletic Operations, was the game scheduler in the “before times.” “Now I’m the game re-scheduler,” she says. She’s transitioned quickly from a proactive planner to a reactive, creative thinker. Sharp appreciates that logistics can be done remotely for the most part and says that at the very least, “everything is easier when holding a dog!”
Minako Sugimoto, Administrative Assistant to the Director of Academic Design and Integration, has only worked remotely at EPS. It’s been hard not meeting her new colleagues in person, but she says, “it speaks for itself that someone new like me can still feel the strength of the community” in the virtual setting. And while she’s excited to be on campus, in the meantime, being remote has allowed her to enjoy wearing her fuzzy slippers, hugging her dog, and having lunch with her kids.
Randi-Louise Peterson, Middle School Executive Assistant, was instrumental in getting new staff and teachers up and running this year. With ten years of EPS knowledge, she guided them through everything from databases to school culture. A strong community doesn’t just happen. It is built, purposely, by interactions like the ones Peterson was invested in.
The school was quick to support the now at-home staff. “Facilities delivered chairs and the tech team provided computer accessories,” says Sharp. “We got a gift card for blue light glasses and we have regular online group lunches.” In addition, virtual gatherings have been created. Some (including regular trivia games and the holiday party) are open to all faculty and staff while others are for segments of the population (new employees, non-teaching staff, etc.).
But it wasn’t just the school that supported the staff, helping them to be resilient. It was the staff who supported the school. From their various locations, staff members have been stepping up, using their time in creative ways to make EPS even better in preparation for the return to campus. The admissions team adapted to the new world. When large, in-person gatherings were no longer possible, the admissions process went from “two open houses to nine theme-based community panels,” says Admissions Experience Coordinator Katie Nikkel. She loves that students can come to multiple events now, which gives them a chance to learn more about EPS. Plus, those multiple events allow the school to learn more about each student as well.
Kristina Dammrose, Enrollment Management Coordinator, loves that for several months the admissions team spent ninety minutes every day just “analyzing our process and reevaluating why and how we do things.” Those evaluative efforts had an immediate impact on the enrollment process for the current year and will resonate for years to come. Eastside Prep will no doubt come out stronger because of these efforts.
Campus Ambassador Jeff Sternitzky is often still on campus, meeting visitors and employees. He misses all the interaction he used to have but feels there may be benefits to having some efforts online. For instance, Parent Association meetings are now available to more parents because they are online, and Back-to-School Night was more streamlined and accessible without the need to navigate our physical campus. He’s also one of the people bringing EPS to homes, recovering lost items, delivering treats for the Head’s Tables, and connecting many school projects with their owners.
And through it all, there has been a strong emphasis on celebrating the community. Shelly Allen, Upper School Executive Assistant, loved delivering yard signs to the 2020 graduates along with other members of the non-teaching staff. Williams does a lot of planning for events for parents as well as faculty and staff. Almost all of those events have needed to be re-imagined, which has meant moving them to virtual spaces while continuing to meet the initial intent and need of the event. For instance, graduation last June was held virtually and all new video components were added to ensure that students felt celebrated in the event. Fall Harvest and Winter Celebration were also held online, with breakout rooms allowing parents and faculty to “mingle” and connect as well as drive-through events with themed gift bags.
Every effort is a new connection. Every connection is a chance to build community. And we’re all much more resilient when in community