At Ukiah Unified, we are grateful for our classified staff, the men and women who help assure our 5,000 students are safe, fed, and provided with the tools they need to learn. With National Classified Staff Appreciation Week coming up the third week in May, now seemed a good time to spotlight these dedicated employees, to share what they love about their jobs and how their work impacts our students.
Patty Dao, Frank Zeek Elementary Crossing Guard/Kindergarten Paraprofessional
Patty is the crossing guard with the huge smile and welcoming wave who greets people at the corner of Low Gap Road and Bush Street. Her positive attitude is impossible to miss, as is her dedication to keeping children safe.
“Cars cannot always see. There have been many close calls,” she admits. When drivers are distracted or in a hurry, they don’t always notice the little ones trying to cross the street to get to school. Patty assures that drivers’ pay attention and prevents students from entering the crosswalk until it’s safe—every school day, rain or shine.
It’s hard not to smile and return Patty’s friendly wave. She so clearly loves what she does. She said, “I always feel appreciated. I love to see the kindergarteners and their little brothers and sisters waving. The community is just awesome. On holidays, I miss them.”
Once she’s done with her crossing guard duties, she heads indoors to the kindergarten classroom where she serves as a paraprofessional, assisting the teacher and “giving students crackers so they don’t get ‘hangry.’” She explained that her children are grown and that being in the classroom with kindergarteners keeps her young. “I absolutely love it…They’re so happy and innocent and truthful,” she said. Even when children have rough days, she’s glad to be there. She says she gives them hugs and helps them have better days when she can.
Lurline Espinola, Oak Manor Elementary Food Service Lead
Another dedicated employee is Lurline Espinola. Sometimes our Food Service employees don’t get the recognition they deserve. They work behind the scenes to provide food for our students, but they often do more than that.
Lurline said, “I really enjoy working with the children. It’s important to me to greet them with a smile. Oftentimes, I’m the first person they see at school in the morning. I want to give them a warm welcome to start their days off right.”
Lurline admits she didn’t grow up saying, “I want to be a lunch lady,” but in her second year as site lead, she’s making a powerful difference for our students. “If the kids are hungry, I can offer them a variety of foods, put a smile on their face, and give them a job—they often need something to do, an outlet,” she said.
She also loves having one-on-one conversations with students. “Sometimes you get them to open up. It’s really important. I never realized [this job] would affect me the way it does. My kids grew up differently. This is a whole new world for me, being around children who need more. Being able to just show them I care, it feeds me… So many just need love. They need to know somebody cares. You’d never think the lunch lady makes a difference, but when they rush in to be the first one to be my helper, it lets me know we do. It makes me want to get up and come to work.”
Todd Cannon, Bus Driver
Our bus drivers can also provide emotional support in addition to transporting kids to and fro. Bus driver Todd Cannon said, “A few kids have had different issues. Instead of jumping to discipline, I’ve listened and heard them out, helped them open up a little bit and tried to help them through a rough time at home.”
Todd also loves his work because it allows him to spend more time with his children. He said, “I like the flexibility of the job. I can spend more time with my family because we have the same holidays, weekends, and vacations together… I never thought about going on field trips and sharing those moments with my child. Whether it’s driving or chaperoning, I can do that. If they have appointments in the middle of the day, I can make them.”As we approach National Classified Staff Appreciation Week, I encourage you to thank the classified employees who interact with your students. They really are an incredible group of people.