Urgent need for food service workers, custodians, and bus monitors as more students return to full in-person learning

Lunch room at Hingham Middle School
April 3, 2021 By Carol Britton Meyer

The good news is that all non-remote Hingham middle and high school students are scheduled to return to classes five full days a week starting April 26.

At the same time, there's an urgent need to bring several more food service workers onboard to help pack individual meals and hand them out during lunchtime once that happens. There are also a large number of custodian/cleaner and bus monitor openings. They have all been advertised, to no avail.

High school food service workers are currently on duty at the elementary schools, where students are already attending class full-time.

Several new food service workers are needed to meet the need, Hingham Public Schools Director of Business and Support Services John Ferris told the Hingham Anchor.

"The positions are paid [rather than volunteer helpers], as what we really need is a 'commitment' for the person to show up so that we have adequate staff to quickly and safely serve meals to our students," he explained.

Shifts run for about two to three hours (between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.), depending on how many lunch sessions there are each day at different schools. "Those are the critical times," according to Ferris.

More hours are available for those who would be available to help throughout the entire lunch operation, "but our primary concern is being able to provide quick, safe service to ensure socially-distanced lunches," Ferris said. "Other duties can be handled by extended hours from our wonderful, committed food service staff, who have been quietly in the background making lunches available and keeping many of our students nourished all year long."

All who are interested encouraged to apply

HPS Food Service Director Kim Smyth said all interested men and women are encouraged to apply, including parents, senior citizens and other members of the community, retirees, and those with flexible work schedules -- anyone over the age of 18 who could work at one or more of the town's six schools until the end of the school year in mid-June.

"It would be an ideal job for stay-at-home moms and dads whose children are in school," Smyth said. "Ideally those hired to fill these positions could be available for training the week before April vacation."

Due to COVID-19 protocols, lunches -- which are pre-ordered through the "lunch menu" link on the HPS website -- must be individually wrapped by the food service workers, and students can no longer serve themselves.

Once middle and high school students are back at school full-time, Smyth anticipates serving between 1,500 to 2,000 lunches per day among the different schools.

Due to COVID-19 challenges facing many families, the federal government will provide free lunches until the end of the school year to all students -- regardless of need -- reimbursing individual food service departments in different communities for the cost of every lunch served.

"It's important for as many students as possible to order these free lunches, because the more we serve, the more money goes back into our lunch program -- which was profitable up until the pandemic," Smyth said.

Wide variety of menu choices

Students have a choice of a hot or cold main entree, accompanied by a vegetable or other side dish -- ranging from carrot and celery sticks and cucumbers, to corn and black bean and chick pea salads -- fruit, and milk.

Students will eat lunch in designated areas -- the cafeteria, gym, or other space, depending on the school -- seated six feet apart, facing forward.

There will be two serving lines -- one for hot, and the other for cold lunches. Food service workers will hand out the lunches for students to bring back to their seats and enjoy. Face masks are required for all workers and students, except when eating their meals.

The need will be at the critical point when middle and high school students return full-time if these positions aren't filled, according to Ferris.

"We can tighten up on the amount of time the food service workers will be needed, as the lunch periods in all the schools are operating somewhat differently as the principals do what is best to make their buildings run [efficiently]," Ferris said.

Smyth is hopeful that these food service slots will be filled. "Otherwise, we would manage to make it work, but it would be stressful," she said.

Double duty

In the meantime, Smyth and Assistant Food Service Director Annabelle Ho are doing double duty making sure things run smoothly in the midst of COVID-19 protocols and challenges.

Lunches continue to be provided to students who are participating in the hybrid model of learning -- which involves partly in-person and partly remote learning.  Curbside pickup is also available. "Every week more students are taking advantage of the free-lunch program," Smyth said.

While students can bring their own lunches, Smyth is hoping more children and teens will participate in the free-lunch program when all grade levels are once again engaged in full-time in-person learning.

For more information about the open food service positions, email Smyth at [email protected].

There's also a great need for several custodians/cleaners to sanitize surfaces between classes and during the school day, to perhaps take some CO2 readings, and to perform other custodial-type duties.  For these positions, HPS is looking for a commitment of at least four hours a day. For further details, email Katie Hartman, Manager of Custodial, Maintenance and Special Projects, at [email protected].

Lastly, HPS would like to hire several more bus monitors, "primarily to [assist with students riding the bus] to school," Ferris said.  "The kids are normally great, but the bus monitors ensure that they keep their masks on, avoid unnecessary contact with each other, and contain some of their excitement!" Ferris said.  The two shifts are 6:30 to 9 a.m. or 1:30 – 4 p.m. For more information, contact Patrick Cunningham, Transportation Supervisor, at [email protected]

"Ideally the commitments would be for every school day, but we encourage people who could make a substantial commitment to apply to help the school system manage our operation until the end of the school year," Ferris said.

He noted that any college students returning to Hingham in May are also encouraged to apply for any of these positions. "We will likely need help from May to June as well as during the summer for custodial and maintenance work," Ferris explained. "We would appreciate hearing from anyone who can make a commitment to any of these jobs."


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