QUINCY — Seeing fellow Quincy Public Schools staff members stress over personal and professional challenges inspired Tracy Bugh to do something to help.
“We’ve got to do something because if we’re not taking care of our staff, they can’t take care of our students,” said Bugh, QPS Positive Behavior Intervention Systems, or PBIS, coordinator.
That desire to help led to launching the QPS Staff Self Care Task Force in early 2020.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic — with its challenges of illness, quarantine, loss and added stress — made the task force and its mission even more important.
People choose careers in education “because they like kids. They like to help people,” Bugh said. “The irony is by doing that you get so emotionally bogged down that many times your resources get depleted, and then you aren’t able to help yourself, let alone be as good of help to others.”
Building and department representatives joined district personnel on the task force looking to support staff needs. Subcommittees developed a timeline for tasks and sharing information on self care and selected a survey completed by staff members in fall 2020.
The survey found staff members wanted to be more intentional with physical self care and financial issues, so the task force provided a “focus on fitness” in January and a “focus on finances” in February. Community members donated their time to lead sessions for QPS staff members on topics ranging from yoga to the teacher retirement system.
“We’re hopeful we’re reaching people we need to reach,” Bugh said.
A follow-up survey will assess what was done this year and potentially what to look at next year. “I don’t feel like we’ve met all the needs yet and probably never will,” Bugh said.
“Everything Tracy is doing with her committee is nothing but an asset to QPS,” QPS Personnel Director Lisa Otten said. “The really great pieces put in place to support staff long-term will last far longer than COVID.”
But COVID inspired another effort by the task force to make sure that staff members still felt cared for and connected.
When a friend was quarantined for COVID and felt disconnected, a task force member came up with the idea of QPS Cares Kits stocked with items including a candle so “you never feel left in the dark” and a rubber band as a reminder “you are flexible and can handle this.”
“Being real careful with privacy, we developed a system to figure out when people are gone — and we didn’t know if they were gone for quarantine, COVID or shoulder surgery — and a gift bag is delivered,” Bugh said. “Many of the things are just cute little things with a nice sentiment. Some of them are real things you might use. Probably the most valuable thing in there is a mask.”
Supporting the project were generous donors in the community who supplied masks and funding to buy other items and help from the Quincy Service League to put together 500 of the kits “hoping we would never need that many,” Bugh said. “All the supplies were donated. As soon as we ask about supporting educators, it’s how and what do you need. That speaks volumes.”
Ultimately, Bugh hopes the task force’s work can lead to people better handling stress.
“We hope people are more aware and able to recognize when their stress levels are high and are doing more things to react to that, and hopefully to prevent and be proactive about that, so they’re doing things to take care of themselves,” Bugh said.
“It’s a learning curve. You can predict when might be a stressful time. Maybe for high school teachers finals week is really stressful or if you have a big term paper due and you’re an English teacher, maybe that’s the week you make sure you exercise because you know that’s a stress reliever for you.”