Lots of people say it in these unusual days of our lives, but for MEA member Amy Quiñones it’s literally true: She did not sign up for this. The job she’s doing in Rockford Public Schools—COVID Response paraprofessional—didn’t exist before this year.
“I jokingly say that the brochure lied,” Quiñones said. “Never before has a position like this existed. There is no map. There is no example. There is no amount of training that could have prepared us for what this school year has been bringing.”
For five years, her job as a paraprofessional involved working in the media center at the Freshman Center and on the playground at an elementary school. Now she monitors kids who fall ill at school and conducts contact tracing when students test positive for COVID-19.
She works in a conference room with spaced-out seating for five students. She screens them using health department guidelines; calls parents to pick up those with COVID symptoms; and tracks quarantine requirements, allowable student return dates, and documentation of everything.
“I’m basically a liaison between the parents and the staff, so I’m in constant contact with parents to follow up: ‘Hey, have you heard any results? Did you talk to your doctor? Did you get a release from quarantine? Do you have that proof of a negative test result?’”
Since she’s calling parents of sick and quarantining students, she also makes a point to ask how they’re doing with the switch to remote learning: How is your child doing in class? Getting online OK? Are they connecting with teachers? How can we assist you?
“It’s never a burden to ease someone’s mind,” Quiñones said. “If that lightens the load a little bit, knowing someone’s got your back if you need it, why not do that?”
When a student receives a positive test result, Quiñones has 24 hours to do the school-related contact tracing and send a report to the Kent County Health Department. She looks at how they got to school—by bus? Where they sat in classes—who was within six-feet? Then the extras—sports, music, clubs? And social—any sleepovers or movie outings?
In the old days she had free personal time to take home and read new books arriving in the library (so she could recommend) or indulge her love of baking. Now she barely finds time to use the restroom or eat lunch because there is always more to do.
With safety equipment—gown, masks, shield, gloves, air filtration—she’s not afraid for herself. She goes the extra mile for others. “I worry about missing something and someone else getting sick. That’s the stress for me, that it’s going to be my fault if something doesn’t get done.”
With three kids of her own in the district—a sixth, eighth and tenth grader—and a husband working split second and third shifts, she is busy keeping everyone moving in the right direction. She also grocery shops for her parents and serves as treasurer of her local union.
“I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t care so much and if I didn’t have such a great team to work with. We are all juggling our personal lives and our families with work. I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round; I guess I can’t get off the ride.”
Read more stories from the series, “What it’s Like: COVID Vignettes”: