The Unseen Work of Running a School

office staff smiling and talking

This week most of the students and staff of Arthur Morgan School embarked on their 18 day field trips. They are having a wonderful time learning about philosophy, birth, death and medicine, and forced migrations. This blog post isn’t about them though.  We will share their adventures next week, including many firsthand stories from each of the three trips.

Instead I want to take a moment to shed light on an aspect of AMS and plenty of other schools that often gets overlooked. While students and staff are away on their trips, the schools  they attend keep running. Someone needs  to perform basic maintenance and answer the phones. In AMS’s case, they also need to feed the livestock. It’s not much different from the support staff of public schools who maintain and prepare school spaces after the children go home each day or during long breaks. This work is valuable, but often goes unnoticed. It is the unseen work of running a school. So I dedicate this blog post to the unsung heroes of education, to office workers, custodians, and maintenance workers everywhere. Without you, our schools could never perform as well as they do!

Why It’s Important to Leave School Behind

middle schoolers watching a wood workerField trips provide amazing learning opportunities. By getting out of the classroom and visiting real world examples of what they are learning, students are able to appreciate the relevancy of their studies. At AMS, students take lots of field trips. Classes make use of local community members or businesses that are doing meaningful work. They go on outdoor trips that teach them valuable skills and inspire their curiosity through interaction with nature.

Right now, our students are on their 18 day field trips in which they road trip across the country. They perform service work and learn about social justice as they travel. They meet people trying to make a difference in the world and feel inspired by their work. These trips are incredibly valuable and make up some of our students’ favorite memories.

Holding Down the Fort

middle school staff member power washingWhile their away though, important work still needs to get done on our campus. Since AMS is also a farm, there is always work to be done. Our chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows need daily care. Seeds need to be planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. It doesn’t matter whether the students are on campus or not–this work must get done.

Staff on stay back also complete important maintenance work while everyone is away on trips. Big projects like painting rooms or power washing the porch are difficult to do when students use the spaces everyday. Major repair projects sometimes require taking a space apart in order to complete. Stay back offers an opportunity to do this work without much disruption to the students’ experience.

The Unseen Work of Running a School might Go Largely Unnoticed, But its Essential to Making the Student Experience Great

Another set of workers that often go unrecognized are those AMS staff members who spend their days behind desks. Development, finance and admissions are all work that need to keep going and can’t pause for school excursions. These coordinators often stay behind, answer the phones, and make sure the school continues to run smoothly.

staff member working in greenhouse by themselvesA Moment to Shine

This year a lot of work is getting done on stay back. While everyone else is traveling across the country, the few staff on stay back are pruning the apple trees, fixing Elizabeth Hall’s ceilings, and starting the seeds that will feed us next fall. Heather is working hard to raise the rest of the funds for our new academic building while also overseeing much of the maintenance work being done. Kavita and our intern, Nick Perry, are prepping the garden while Ward and Matt keep our finances in order. Tal is trimming the hedge between the school and Camp Celo and will soon be preparing our old wood shop for its demolition this spring. Together they will accomplish a lot.

But this post isn’t just about this stay back. It’s about every trip we go on and those of us who get left behind. Staying back might seem like a privilege. Taking a break from being on with students is important in order to recharge and stay fresh. Getting to focus on projects without disruption is also a nice benefit. Most staff welcome the opportunity to stay back and get excited for the quiet time.

Feeling Left Behind

middle schoolers and teachers talking after a tripHowever, there is also a sadness that goes along with it. When the tail lights disappear down Hannah Branch and the laughter from the vans fade, the campus can feel sadly empty. We are reminded that much of the work that brings us joy is in the interaction with our students. Cleaning out the water bars might go quicker, but it’s definitely not as enjoyable as when students are alongside you, telling you stories and laughing.

Then there is the return when everyone gets out of the van, laughing and excited about the adventure they just shared. They try to include you and tell you stories, but it’s not the same. Sometimes you just needed to be there.

I wonder if school custodians feel the same way.  As they go from classroom to classroom and see evidence of all the fun activities students completed that day, do they wonder what happened and wish they could be a part of it? Most people probably don’t think about this important work. They are accustomed to walking in each day and seeing a clean space ready to use, just like it was the day before.

It’s the same for when our students return. None of them will notice that the hedge is shorter or the mess they created in their flurry of leaving has been magically cleaned up. They will throw down their bags and quickly move on to their next activity. And I suppose that’s how it should be. It’s why we do this unseen work of running a school. We don’t need credit. Students smiling and laughing after enjoying a fun adventure is acknowledgement enough.

-by Nicholas Maldonado