As the Midtown community has adjusted to the new realities of in-person learning after a year and a half online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one group at Midtown has been especially invaluable – the support staff.
The Midtown support staff includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, police officers, custodians and others who work behind the scenes to keep the school running smoothly.
“The support staff at the school are an indispensable and essential part of the Midtown community,” Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman said. “Without their hard work and dedication day-in and day-out, the school would not be as successful as it is today.”
According to Assistant Principal Willie Vincent, with the return to in-person learning, these staffers are “now more important than ever.”
“This year, we had some students who had never been at Midtown in-person, and the support staff, such as the bus drivers and police, really made these students feel at home here and made the transition easy,” Vincent said.
An essential part of the support staff at Midtown are the bus drivers, who are responsible for making sure that students get to and from school safely.
“Some of the most important and dedicated people at this school right now are our bus drivers,” Vincent said. “They have a huge responsibility in making sure all of our students get to school safely, and they have been absolutely wonderful this year. Their work makes this school a lot easier to run as well.”
Hundreds of students rely on the Midtown bus drivers every day to get them to and from school, making drivers’ jobs tremendously difficult.
“The bus is my main mode of transport to and from school, and has been a staple in my life since sixth grade,” junior Jonas Loesel said. “I am grateful for the buses and to the bus drivers, and it is a nice convenience.”
Difficulties, including drivers being confronted with the ever-present threat of Covid-19, have created inefficiencies in morning and afternoon bus schedules and routes.
“Sometimes drivers don’t show up at school, and when this happens, kids are sometimes left stranded for hours with no way of getting home,” Vincent said. “These situations have forced us to improvise, with faculty and staff sometimes having to drive the buses. From what I have seen, a lot of the reason why they aren’t showing up is because of the stress of Covid and other issues this school year.”
Students have been frustrated with this situation.
“I have been riding the bus since the beginning of this year,” freshman Nyhila Silva said. “In this period, there have been plenty of times where buses haven’t shown up or have shown up an hour or so late. On these occasions, I have been stuck in school until my parents can pick me up. I also have many friends who have been stranded at school since their driver did not show up.”
The situation has also forced some bus drivers to cover the routes of the driver who did not show up.
“It’s really inconvenient, and in my opinion, it’s not very responsible when bus drivers don’t show up, and I have had to cover their shifts,” Midtown bus driver Edward Reeves said. “I have covered these routes on several occasions, and it means that I have to do extra work just to make sure the kids aren’t stranded at school.”
Midtown bus driver Quindrica Byrd said bus drivers across the district have also had to adapt to major adjustments since in-person school and the need for bus drivers has resumed.
“Last year, I wasn’t really needed as a bus driver, and when I was called back this year, I didn’t realize how much harder it would be,” Byrd said. “This year with Covid, it was a lot tougher for both the kids and bus drivers like myself. We were all required to wear masks, and I had to deal with a whole bunch of other issues as well. In my case, I am studying for my bachelors degree as well; so, all of this along with my studies has made this year incredibly hard for me.”
Though there have been issues to problem-solve, there has been one major positive for bus drivers this year: the behavior of Midtown students on their buses.
“The students have been behaving wonderfully this year, and we haven’t had any major incidents of students misbehaving like we have had in previous years,” Vincent said. “From what I have heard from the drivers, our students have been extremely respectful, and I’m really proud of them for representing our school in this manner.”
Students have also had to adjust to a new reality on buses due to the transportation mask mandate on school district transportation.
“Most people are really good at wearing masks, but a few aren’t,” Silva said. “It’s really nice that everyone follows the mask-wearing protocol on the buses, and it has made me feel safer on the buses this year.”
The overall behavior of the students on the buses and their following of mask protocol has made this year enjoyable for Byrd.
“I have been driving for Midtown for three years, and this has been the best and my favorite year yet,” Byrd said. “The students have behaved excellently on the buses, and I have not had one disciplinary issue this year. I drive for some other APS schools and have had dozens of severe disciplinary cases, but the Midtown kids have been exemplary.”
Though the bus system has gone through several ups and downs this year, administrators have hope that the system will start to run more smoothly.
“I hope that next year we can get back to a more stable process like we had before Covid,” Vincent said. “The buses are an extremely important part of hundreds of students’ lives, and it is our job as administrators to make the system as efficient as possible.”
One part of the support staff which is crucial for creating a supportive school environment is the cafeteria staff, who make and distribute lunch to hundreds of students daily.
“It is essential that all of our students get a fulfilling lunch every day of the week, and I am thankful to the cafeteria staff for the hard work they do,” Dr. Bockman said. “This year, we have tried some changes to our lunch program in order to try and provide more filling and healthy lunches than the pizza and fries that were served every day before the pandemic. Having a healthy and fulfilling lunch corresponds directly to academic performance, and we thought it was time to change lunches to create a more complete meal.”
It is essential that all of our students get a fulfilling lunch every day of the week, and I am thankful to the cafeteria staff for the hard work they do.
— Dr. Betsy Bockman
Much of the work in creating the new lunches fell onto the cafeteria staff, which is in charge of creating new dishes, putting together lunches and distributing them to students.
“The cafeteria staff, in particular, have worked tirelessly with the company that we work with on school lunches, and have come up with and distributed a product that I think is more healthy than what we had before,” Vincent said.
However, when creating the new lunches for this year, the cafeteria staff have had to face major issues associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, such as a lack of staff and supply-chain shortages.
“We have struggled a lot this year with simply not being able to get the ingredients we need to make the school lunches, and on top of this, on many occasions, we have also not had the staff needed in the lunchroom to make and hand out all of these lunches,” Dr. Bockman said. “This has led to our lunches not always being up to our standards, but that is the harsh reality of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
These issues have led to many students at Midtown not enjoying the lunches.
“I don’t really like the pre-packaged food because it gets soggy, and am overall not a big fan of the food,” junior Michael Centner said. “However, I see why they had to do it, and there are still definitely days when it tastes good, and I eat it.”
Teachers have also felt the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the lunches at Midtown.
“I used to go down to the cafeteria and eat food there once or twice a week, but have not since the start of this year,” language arts teacher Mario Herrera said. “I don’t go because of the changes to the lunch program and the food, but also because Midtown has made it so difficult for the staff to go and have lunch. I miss my time down in the lunchroom interacting with students and laughing, and I hope things can change.”
One of the biggest differences this year, like on the buses, has been the behavior of the students.
“The students have been more irresponsible than ever before this year, not only in the building as a whole, but also in the cafeteria,” science teacher Lawson Yale said. “They leave their wrappers and food waste strewn all over the tables and thrown on the floors with no care for how the cafeteria workers feel when they have to pick up all of this trash. They expect people to just clean up after them, and don’t realize how hard the cafeteria workers are already working.”
Midtown administrators say that they look forward to improving the new lunches in the future.
“This has been new territory for us, starting with a new lunch program from when we first left school,” Dr. Bockman said. “It was also tough having not been in school for a year and then suddenly coming back and adjusting to a new reality. I hope that in the future, we can get into a smoother rhythm with lunches, and the process will become easier like how it was pre-pandemic. We also have an amazing staff working in the cafeteria like Mr. Lundy, our cafeteria manager, so I have no doubts that lunch will only improve from here on out.”
School Resource Officers
After incidents with guns at Midtown in the past few years, safety has become an even higher priority for the administration. The school resource officers (SROs) serve as the police officers around school and are mainly responsible for making sure that there is no opportunity for violent incidents.
“We have had some situations with weapons being brought into the school over the last few years, and the SROs handled those situations wonderfully, and made everyone including the administrators feel as safe as possible,” Dr. Bockman said. “They do so much around the school, and because of their work, the number of fights and other disciplinary events has decreased, and overall, they have done amazing work this year and in the past few years.”
This relationship built between students and officers has seen Midtown report one of its lowest crime rates ever, a sharp decline from pre-pandemic numbers, which were some of the highest the school has seen.
“Looking at the numbers, Midtown has some of the lowest rates of fighting and crime out of any APS schools this year, which is a reverse of some previous trends,” APS Police Chief Ronald Applin said. “Our police officers at Midtown have worked so incredibly hard this year, and this is just a reward for all of the work they have put in. From the district level down to Midtown, it has been a great and coordinated effort.”
On top of this, the police department has struggled with the nationwide “Defund the Police” movement, which gained prominence in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder on may 25, 2020 by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“We lost a lot of the trust with students and parents that we had spent years trying to build up,” Applin said. “A lot of the students at Midtown and in other APS schools started being more hesitant towards us at the police department, and seeing the video of George Floyd, I can understand why. In the months since that happened, we have worked extremely hard to try and rebuild that trust, and I can see that it is starting to get rebuilt with the students.”
A lot of the success of the SROs at Midtown is due to the organization and training they receive from Atlanta Public Schools’ Police Department, which conducts intensive training courses for all officers stationed in APS schools.
“We run extremely thorough background checks and make sure the officers are physically fit and have at least two years of background experience so that we can find the best possible officers that we can,” Applin said. “This has resulted in us getting the best possible officers from across the state, and has been reflected in the trust that students are having with police officers, which is at one of its highest points ever.”
We lost a lot of the trust with students and parents that we had spent years trying to build up. A lot of the students at Midtown and in other APS schools started being more hesitant towards us at the police department.
— Ronald Applin
Despite these challenges, Midtown’s faculty and administration have been thankful for the work the police do in keeping the Midtown school community safe.
“I am really grateful to our police department for the work they do and how they keep us safe each and every day here at Midtown,” Herrera said. “To me, they are more than just security. I see them being supportive; I see them creating community, and I see them laughing with kids. They are really a bright spot in the Midtown community, and it would be a lot different here without them.”
Students, such as Silva, share the same thankfulness for the police.
“The police really make a difference on campus, and I feel safer with them here,” Silvasaid. “Much harm or crime doesn’t really occur here at Midtown, and though I haven’t seen them that much, I am sure they are doing their job and am thankful for that.”
Administrators and police have high hopes for continuing to build trust with the students and community in the future and keeping Midtown the safest it can possibly be.
“The police really make this school what it is with their constant dedication and care for the students, and I have no doubts that into the future, they will only make Midtown the best it can possibly be and uphold our exemplary standards,” Dr. Bockman said. “They are an essential part of our support staff, all of whom have come together and made our transition back to in-person learning much easier than expected.”
When Midtown reopened this year, it was essential to keep the school clean due to the ongoing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. To do so, the custodial staff has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the school as clean and safe as possible for the students.
“When we made the decision to return to in-person learning this year, we knew that we would have to solve a bunch of problems on how to keep the school clean and disinfected,” Dr. Bockman said. “The custodial staff have been an immense help in this task. They are always working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that our school is safe for students, and are a main factor in our Covid numbers in school being so low.”
Administrators are thankful for the dedication and hard work the custodial staff have shown in fighting Covid at the school this year.
“They (custodial staff) have had to deal with a lot this year with Covid, and they have done wonderfully,” Vincent said. “I, and all of the other administrators are extremely grateful for the work they do in keeping this school clean and safe. Covid has been hard on all of us, but they have really persevered.”
Aside from Covid, the custodial staff has also had to deal with issues such as the “Devious Licks” TikTok trend, which consisted of students stealing items from around the school, such as soap dispensers and smoke alarms.
“Kids steal things all the time, especially during Devious Licks,’’ Midtown custodian Frankie Jones said. “Some bathrooms such as the Boys E100 bathroom never have soap dispensers. Every time I have gone and replaced something, it has disappeared again hours later. The TikTok trends just make our jobs a lot harder, and add to our work load.”
Just like in the cafeteria, the behavior of the students has been a big difference in the custodial staff’s lives this year
“The students have been really messy this year, and some days are worse than others,” Jones said. “ Kids are just being kids. They leave their trash or other food waste out in the cafeteria, and we have also seen a lot of graffiti in the bathrooms. I don’t think they realize that it is us (custodians) who have to come behind and pick or clean this stuff up.”
Students feel the same way about their classmates’ behavior.
“The work of the custodial staff is great, especially after the lunches, but really all over school,” Silva said. “I am thankful that they are here mainly because some people don’t know how to clean up after themselves. We have a really nice school, and the custodians help keep it that way, regardless of some people’s irresponsible behavior.”
Starting this year, aside from cleaning the main two buildings, the custodial staff also had to add the new A-wing to their already busy schedule.
“When we decided to add the A-wing to the school, we knew it would be a massive undertaking, and that we would need the dedication of the custodial staff to keep it clean,” Dr. Bockman said. “They have been awesome, and have made the building look like new even now, months later. A lot has been on their plate from ‘Devious Licks’ to their normal duties, and they have added the new building into their schedule seamlessly.”
Students also appreciate the work that the custodial staff does in keeping the A-Wing clean.
“The A-Wing is insanely clean, and much of that should be attributed to the custodial staff,” Loesel said. “The custodial staff is one of those behind the scenes things that we never fully appreciate, and I am extremely thankful for everything they do for our school.”
Administrators are grateful for all that the custodial staff does.
“All of our support staff, including our custodial staff, are the real heroes in this school,” Vincent said. “They do so much in making sure that we have the best environment in this school, and are a crucial part of what we stand for. I really just want to say thank you to all of them, and look forward to what we do in the future.”
As Midtown continues into an unknown future, the role of the support staff will only become increasingly important to the school’s everyday functioning.
“As important as our support staff is to the school now, they will become increasingly important in the future,” Dr. Bockman said. “We are still living in uncertain times, and their (support staff) adaptability and hard work will be essential to how we become the best version of ourselves in the future.”
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