Throughout the pandemic, MEA member Jill Wheeler has gone above and beyond to get books to kids, hand-delivering titles to classrooms and sanitizing the returns since students could no longer check them in and out in-person due to safety protocols.
Much has changed in her role this year as a library aide in Sandusky Community Schools, but some things remain the same, she said. It’s as important as ever to keep children connected to the joys of reading.
She typically maintains a book wall with recommendations of titles she’s read and wants to read.
“In normal times, I love the gratification of a child’s face when you hand them the book after they come to check it out,” Wheeler said. “I’m still getting that gratification, just in a different way. I’ve still seen the kids in the classroom when I take the books down and they’re all very excited to see me.”
Wheeler runs two libraries in the Thumb-area district. The work has required careful attention to detail in following the state’s health and safety guidelines for masking, distancing, and decontaminating circulating materials.
When a book is returned, library staff must wait a few days and then check it in, wipe it down with Clorox wipes, and wait for it to dry before reshelving it. At the elementary school, books await shelving on a banquet table. At the high school, she was thrilled to snag a free outdoor book drop-box from the local college.
Wheeler has been president of her support staff union for the past 15 years, representing secretaries, paraeducators, custodial and transportation staff, and bus drivers. Under her leadership, the district’s support professionals have helped serve the unique needs of families throughout the public health crisis.
“We were delivering food. We were delivering homework packets. We were riding buses,” she said. “The parapros were actually creating activities for their students and dropping them off at their homes. Some of them who work in credit recovery at the high school were still coming in to move virtual kids when they passed a test or to answer questions that came up.
“We all bent over backward because we care about this community,” she added.
Despite the pandemic, March is Reading month marches on this year, Wheeler explained, and she’s ready to help her students celebrate books and reading. She is currently working on adapting Read Across America activities scheduled for March.
In a normal year, she organizes book giveaways, prize drawings, and even a lunchtime book event at the high school to celebrate reading during the month.
“I have two bags of books and prizes in the back room, and I’m just praying I can give them away this year. Keep it going, you know? Because last year it felt like the world stopped on March 13th.”
Wheeler’s dedication to helping students succeed earned her the 2020 Leon A. Brunner Award, which recognizes support staff who have exhibited a high degree of commitment and dedication to their union while advocating for ESP member issues.
During her tenure as local president, Wheeler has bargained contracts, fought off an effort to privatize custodians, and helped organize and maintain her association’s involvement in various community service projects. “It’s gratifying all the way around,” she said.
Read more stories from the series, “What it’s Like: COVID Vignettes”: