Guest columnist Ben Herrington: Gratitude for frontline workers in the schools, elsewhere

  • Benjamin Herrington in 2018. file photo

Published: 2/12/2021 4:17:06 PM

The COVID crisis has upended the way most of us live and interact with each other these days. Community conversations have centered around topics like in-person learning versus remote learning, safety of school buildings, and several other topics surrounding the education of our students here in Amherst.

One piece that has been missing, or at least not in the forefront of these conversations, is the workers who have braved the storm since the very beginning of the pandemic.

While our schools were vacated last March in a sea of uncertainty and fear, a few groups of workers found themselves on the front lines of the pandemic; our food service workers, custodians and maintenance workers (most of whom are also bus drivers).

During a period where we had no idea how bad the pandemic truly was, our custodians came in day after day, faithfully, and did their jobs despite the potential dangers involved. Our dedicated food service workers continued to serve our children through the meal delivery program. Our drivers delivered those meals and when they weren’t delivering food, they were working on improving the conditions of our school buildings. The entire facilities department went above and beyond to ensure a safe environment would be ready to serve our children and educators when they returned to the buildings.

For the brief period where we had students and staff in buildings, all of these workers stepped up to maintain a sense of safety and even a sense of normalcy in a moment where nothing was normal anymore.

Aside from the selfless dedication that has been and continues to be exhibited by these folks, there has also been a great deal of sacrifice. We have had several food service workers who have been on furlough since the fall. Just recently, seven custodians and driver/maintainers were furloughed. To say this has been a difficult time for our oft overlooked workers is a vast understatement. These people have been pushed to the breaking point and yet they have remained resilient.

I say all of that to say this; not only do we need to celebrate the labor they have provided to keep our buildings standing, our children fed, and to ensure that we will have schools to return to one day, we need to recognize that they never waivered from the task at hand. Faced with trying times, these people rose to the occasion, day after day, and continue to rise, because they all understand and take seriously their role in the future of our children.

There are no words to express the debt of gratitude owed to our front-line workers, not just those in our schools but all of the front-line workers who have kept us moving forward throughout this difficult phase in our lives. The next time you see a custodian, a maintenance worker, a food service worker, or anyone else who provides us with the means to maintain our lives as we did before the pandemic disrupted everything — stop. Take a moment to acknowledge their existence and offer your gratitude. These folks get overlooked far too often and in this moment in time, they deserve better. Let’s take the time to recognize and show appreciation for their contributions to our society.

Ben Herrington is the assistant facilities director for the Amherst Public Schools and a school committee member.
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