Behind the Scenes of Unsung Heroes

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In August, with the pandemic not letting up, schools across the country had to make the difficult choice to either continue in-school learning when school resumed or remain a remote-learning model. TheSallie B. Howard School of Arts and Science, which serves 1,095 students from kindergarten through 10th grade, made the smartest choice for the safety of all students and staff — to continue remote learning, just as they had done since March.

Beyond the challenge that this posed for the school administration, teachers, parents and children of Sallie B. Howard, it also deeply affected the ancillary staff, whom Sandeep Aggarwal, Assistant Director, Dean of Business and Technology, calls his “unsung heroes.”

“As the Dean of Business, I supervise the cafeteria, custodial and maintenance staff, and they have been fantastic since the pandemic started,” he said. “We used this opportunity as a gift.”

Back in March, when the school went fully remote after spring break, the six-person custodial staff used the time to clean every surface of the school. They washed and waxed the floors, sanitized the decks and furniture, and cleaned the bathrooms thoroughly, anticipating the kids would come back by the new school year. Then, when everything was in tip-top shape, they ventured to take on a massive project.

“Our custodial staff even went a step further and painted the entire school — each classroom, all of the hallways, the whole campus — roughly 50 rooms,” said Aggarwal. “Usually I’d hire someone on the outside to paint the building, but it’s expensive. Our custodial staff stepped up to the job with great enthusiasm with Mr. Larry Hagans, our head custodian, leading from the front.”

Throughout the summer, the custodial staff continued to paint. “We have almost 100,000 square feet building area; they tackled these huge hallways,” he said. “It is a huge footprint. Six people got all of that work done. They are very dedicated; they love this school; they love their jobs and the people here. Most importantly, they love the kids, just as much as the teachers. That’s one of the strengths of our school: everyone loves the kids and that is how magic happens at SBHS.”

“Our cafeteria is known for its good, fresh food. We call it Soul Food Café.”
—Sandeep Aggarwal

The 10 cafeteria staff members were just as busy, if not busier, due to the remote learning schedule. Working from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., each day they received and unpacked produce and merchandise, preparing more than 1,000 fresh-made meals, both breakfast and lunches. They then packed them up in paper bags to be delivered curbside to the parents outside the cafeteria.

“Community members and parents would come by each day,” said Aggarwal. “There was a dedicated staff member who brought the food out to their cars and delivered the packages in the backseat or trunk so there was no contact.”

In addition, buses would drive to eight pick-up locations, centrally located in various communities. Arriving at 2 p.m., they would park for an hour so families could pick up food for their kids. “This was for community members and parents who could not drive to school for one reason or another, so we reached out to them,” said Aggarwal.

“We care about the whole child; that’s why the custodial staff have made sure the building is clean and sparkling when the kids eventually come back to school. The same thing goes with our cafeteria staff; they believe in cooking the most tasty meals and best food to fill our children so they are ready to learn. The kids all give energy back to our staff, and right now our staff are cooking meals or cleaning the halls without seeing the kids’ bright, beautiful faces — so it’s harder on our staff, definitely psychologically, mentally more challenging. They are all doing an amazingly great job.”

Sallie B. Howard, who dedicated her life to teaching and loving children until the age of 102, once famously said, “Hire people who love the children. We can teach them everything else.”  

“Our staff, from our administration to our teachers to our custodial and cafeteria staff, all have love for the children — and that brings about their best work for all of us,” said Aggarwal.

Sallie B Howard School is a free, public charter school offering a holistic education to produce thinkers of the heart and citizens of the world.

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