Our COVID-19 Response: Flexibility
By Clare Ogle, a Milton Hershey School Houseparent
When you start as a houseparent at Milton Hershey School you start in a roll called a flex houseparent. You go around to other student homes to learn how different homes are run, you cover when placed houseparents are off, and you fill in as needed. Perhaps the most obvious reason this role is called “flex” is because of how flexible you have to be to do it. You are often in a few different homes each week. Many houseparents long for the day when they are placed in their own student home and no longer have to flex. However, if COVID-19 has taught us anything over these past weeks, it’s that we always have to remain flexible.
MHS is a unique place that has a very unique role to play during this pandemic—as a safe and supportive place for our students. While many parents/sponsors chose to pick up their students and take advantage of virtual learning in their home communities, many made the decision to keep their students on campus to complete virtual learning here and benefit from the quality care and resources MHS continues to provide. There are still hundreds of students on campus and MHS is doing its best to keep them safe during this time.
Flexibility has been key. Not just for houseparents, but for the students as well. In a matter of days, the school modified its operations to ensure the safety of our students. Some parents/sponsors chose to pick up their students and headed home, some students moved to a different student home, and others stayed put. It is no small task moving hundreds of students, belongings, meds, and toys to new places in the matter of a few short hours. But, we did it! Houseparents have been checking in on each other and some are even meeting online each night to see one another.
Beyond houseparents, here are some other ways the MHS community has been flexible:
MHS Students and Teachers
All students learned to transition to virtual learning, but they weren’t the only ones affected by this. Milton Hershey School teachers also had to be flexible and transition to virtual teaching. They have done a great job checking in with our students and keeping them on track. While virtual learning/teaching is a great alternative and a wonderful option during this time, it’s not ideal. I was a teacher before becoming a houseparent and, like most teachers, I would rather BE with my students IN a classroom each day. But, that hasn’t stopped teachers from making videos, posting assignments, and staying in touch.
MHS Food Services
MHS Food Services has stepped up and has been sending out two meals each weekday to student homes. Lunch AND dinner, plus all of the regular stuff we order for our student homes. Not only have they been sending meals, but they have been doing it with a smile. They have also been sending out fun stuff like cookies and cute cupcakes. For Easter, they made adorable cupcakes with Peeps on top! Again, not their normal routine, but they are being flexible.
MHS Clothing Center
The MHS Clothing Center stays on top of making sure all students have all of the clothes they need—shirts, shoes, shorts, swimsuits, etc. Also, as a response to COVID-19, they have added a new item to their list: masks. The MHS Clothing Center, along with MHS staff volunteers, have been working hard to make sure that all students, houseparents, houseparent children, and any essential employees on campus have access to masks. Talk about being flexible!
MHS Health Center
The MHS Health Center staff has been taking care of all normal health issues as well as assessing students as they return to campus. They have a system in place for any student returning to campus. They, like other medical professionals, are working extra hard during this time.
MHS COVID-19 Task Force
We have a COVID-19 Task Force that meets continually to stay on top of all the new information and mandates that come out. Earlier this year this task force didn’t even exist and now they are working tirelessly to make sure that we all remain in the know.
Other MHS Departments
MHS Campus Safety is also working hard to make sure we are all safe! MHS Facilities staff still has this place looking gorgeous! And the MHS Project Market has been offering produce for Home Life staff and students to enjoy. MHS Communications has been working hard to make sure we all stay in the know and that we stay positive. Transitional Living (TL) staff created a senior Facebook Page where they check in with the Class of 2020 and try to keep their spirits up during this difficult time. Some TL students even made a sign outside of TL that says, “Hope is not canceled.” MHS Enrollment Management and Family Relations has been in contact with parents and sponsors answering questions. Departments are adjusting to working at home, meeting via online chat, and communicating over the phone rather than in person.
This is not what anyone pictured for this year. But you know, we are DOING it. And you know what else? We are doing it WELL. We are taking it in stride. Sure, some days are better than others…meaning some days are worse. But, as we all strive to remain flexible, we will come out of this and we will be stronger because of it!