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Hilltop Happenings

Salisbury Gentlewoman Patti Stevens
Kristina Miller

-Written by Andrew Mager '22 

When Ms. Stevens started her job in August of 2019 as head of housekeeping for Salisbury School, she had no idea that eight months later she would be on the front line of the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu. Salisbury School, like most schools around the nation, shut down in March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. She describes a meeting with her supervisors when she and her staff were warned, “it's here, it's coming.” It was instantly a different gear and a different mindset. Her staff had to be trained on all necessary CDC protocols to quell the virus including social distancing, disinfecting all touch surfaces, and restocking supplies such as hand sanitizing stations throughout the campus and individual disinfectant for each classroom. Beginning in late March, the housekeeping team began to work staggered shifts. Following a thorough cleaning, the buildings on campus that were not in use were closed, allowing the team to focus on the one dorm that remained open, as well as the few other buildings that remained open. At this point, Ms. Stevens was working ten hour days, often arriving at 5:00 a.m., to support her housekeeping staff. According to one of her staff members, Ms. Stevens “works really hard to ensure our safety and the safety of the students.” When I asked Director of Facilities, Grounds, and Safety Mr. Boyer, he had a very similar response, “She does her job very efficiently.”

I first met Ms. Stevens on April 23rd, 2021. She walked into the second-floor Centennial classroom smiling, and I greeted her by introducing myself. She sat down and I began my interview nervously. At first, she gave short answers only a few words long. As the interview progressed, it gradually became much more of a friendly conversation. Time passed quickly and before I knew it we had been talking for forty-five minutes. At the close of the interview, she invited me to visit her department.

Two days later, when I arrived at the housekeeping office tucked away in the Dean Family Performance Training Center, there was a whiteboard on the door that said “welcome to housekeeping! Grumpy people are not allowed.” Ms. Stevens was standing behind the counter. She said hello with a quick smile and welcomed me to sit down. Three of her staff members were sitting around the room. There was a sizable whiteboard hanging on the cinder block wall, with a weekly schedule outlining tasks for each of the nine staff members. The atmosphere, casual and friendly, showed the camaraderie between Ms. Stevens and her staff. I asked how their job and their lives had been affected by the pandemic. One replied, “I always go to the grocery store early in the morning on Sunday when no one is there.” This shows the team's dedication to minimizing risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

When the Students at Salisbury left campus for spring break during the 2019-2020 school year, everyone thought they would be returning shortly. However, COVID-19 concerns kept the campus closed for the rest of the academic year. Even though the campus was quiet, the housekeeping team of six people continued to work alternating ten hour shifts and rigorously followed State of Connecticut guidelines to ensure the campus was properly sanitized. At this time, they also had to implement new cleaning standards for a possible return. At the outset, the staff worked diligently cleaning the dorms, including power washing the bathrooms. Disinfecting work continued in all eighteen buildings on campus, according to Ms. Stevens. When the hand sanitizing stations arrived, Ms. Stevens assembled each dispensing stand that students have used since returning to the campus in September. With a look of comedic resignation, Ms. Stevens confided the busiest and messiest hand sanitizing station on campus is in the dining hall. When I asked Max Capatides, a third former from New Jersey, what he thought of the hand sanitizing station in the dining hall, he instantly said, “It's disgusting... It's slimy and it smells gross.” There are sixty touch-free sanitizing stations throughout all campus buildings. While most people were having problems finding toilet paper, the only shortage the school experienced was a lack of disinfecting wipes. As a result, Ms. Stevens bought vast quantities of disinfecting solution and the staff submerged paper towels in it to make their own disinfection wipes. When I asked about the price increases her department faced during the pandemic, Ms. Stevens shared, “As far as spending, the added cost for all our extra supplies specific for the pandemic is 100% more than what is usually spent.” Coming out of the pandemic, Ms. Stevens has a few new ideas that she would like to implement into campus life. “Lastly, one of my other goals on campus is that I would like to have campus-wide cooperation and participation in recycling. I am hoping to spearhead this in September.” 

Using Covid cleaning protocols in all their work, the cleaning staff continues to clean the classrooms and dorms. As a student, I know that the dorms can get very messy. Max Capatides says it best: “The cleaning staff are excellent at their job, I feel bad that they have to clean all the stuff boys do in the dorm.” Meanwhile, in the classrooms the cleaning crew makes sure that every room has hand pump sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. For example, French teacher Mrs. Barbato uses her wipes to clean off the desks. Ms. Hussey, a tutor in the Rudd Learning Center for Growth and Academic Potential says, “I don’t know where the wipes come from, the containers just magically appear.” 

When she isn’t on the Hilltop fighting germs, Ms. Stevens focuses on being a single mother of a son and daughter, an avid equestrian, and proud owner of a spotted geico. Her son and daughter have not been to school since March because she wanted to protect her housekeeping team and she did not agree with the local schools’ protocols. Luckily, since this interview, her kids have returned to school in-person. Despite the added responsibility and carefulness that her job requires, she has no second thoughts about leaving. “This job was meant to be for me,” she said. When I asked what she enjoyed most about her job, she replied enthusiastically, “Teamwork. Working with the team, as a team.”