One day in the school’s front office

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As the administrative assistant at Bishop Schad Regional School in Vineland, Jane Lambert has a non-stop work day, with her attention revolving among the needs of students, faculty and parents, as well as the paperwork on her desk. Photo by Mary Beth Peabody

Jane Lambert , the administrative assistant at Bishop Schad Regional School in Vineland, arrives at work by 7 a.m. daily and fixes herself a cup of coffee she will never finish.She arranges her tasks for the day on her desk and greets the stream of teachers who come in and out to make copies, pick up mail and take care of last minute preparations. It’s early May, with just a few short weeks until the end of the school year. The PTA president stops in on her way to work to drop off gift baskets for the upcoming golf tournament. A flower arrangement sits on the counter — yesterday’s gift from a grateful family in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day.

“Am I late?” A first grader enters the office, breath racing, with a hopeful
expression.

“You can wait one more minute and you’ll be late,” says Jane. The boy turns and marches off to class, on time. Jane explains that he actually wants to be late so he can get a late pass and that the two share this exchange almost daily.

Every South Jersey Catholic School has its Jane — the person who knows every student and parent by name, the first face visitors see when they walk in the door, the fixer of office machines, purchaser of supplies, keeper of school history and tier of small shoes. The job requires a good memory and organizational skills, keen ability to multi-task, even disposition, welcoming personality, and love for children.

In the 10 minutes between the morning bell and prayers, many students are in and out of the office, and they all need to see Jane. Eighth graders come to pick up cereal, which they sell during morning snack time, and two pre-K boys arrive with paperwork from home. Students set up for morning prayers, the Pledge of Allegiance and announcements. A boy comes in to look for his book bag in the Lost and Found. Another boy, who really is late every day, arrives on cue to place his lunch order and get his late pass. “Why are those baskets in the hall?” asks (as if he needs to know).  Announcements are over and it’s 7:55 a.m.

In the next 30 minutes, Jane is the recipient of all deliveries. Fifth graders bring attendance reports from every class, along with envelopes that come from home. Lunch orders arrive from a student in each grade, including the tiny girl from pre-K with the polka dot jacket.

A teary girl who did not want to be late arrives with her grandmother. Jane offers the girl a drink of water, then helps her grandmother who asks for information about an upcoming class trip. A prospective parent and child
arrive for a kindergarten assessment, and the eighth grade teacher stops in to talk about a BJ’s Wholesale Club run for class snacks.

In between the ringing phone and beeping door, Jane turns to the paperwork on her desk. She keeps a close eye on the clock to make sure she is ready for the student who is supposed to arrive at 8:30 a.m. for medication. When he is not there at 8:30 sharp, she goes to get him.

The next latecomer arrives at 8:40, fresh from the eye doctor with new contact lenses. “How do you feel with them?” Jane wants to know.

A group of eighth grade girls arrive to try on dresses for the upcoming May procession and crowning. School principal Sister Rosa Maria Ojeda found the dress in several sizes at a steal, so she picked them up for the girls to try on. As the girls retreat to the teachers’ lounge, a pre-K boy arrives to tell Jane he has no lunch. She offers him a snack from the stash she keeps on hand, and his downward glance gives way to a wide smile.

The girls emerge, looking for a pen to mark their dresses. Everyone is thrilled the dress is a hit.

“My mom set the alarm for the wrong time. My teacher’s going to have a cow,” says the next late arrival. It’s just about 9:15 a.m.

The top of Jane’s desk is organized with precision: In-box, out-box, post-it note reminders, papers to be filed, attendance report, information about a speaker for the upcoming teacher in-service, the WB Mason supplies list, invoices, checks and receipts, cash, the finance binders where she logs every transaction before doing the same on her computer. Today is the day Jane gets money ready for the school’s bookkeeper to deposit, and every penny needs to be accounted for. Alex’s Lemonade Stand, golf tournament, lunches, the mystery dinner theater from the prior weekend.

Jane has been the school’s administrative assistant since 2006, but her roots go way back. She, her mother and her two children all graduated from the school, before it was renamed Bishop Schad in the wake of a merger. Volunteering gave way to her current position. Jane said her organized predecessor helped her settle in. “She typed everything out — what to do daily, monthly. So I had a great guide, and she was so, so nice to work with,” said Jane. That kindness seems to be part of the Bishop Schad culture.

Not a teacher comes into the office during the day without congratulating Jane about her daughter Jenna, who is about to graduate from college. Jane will be leaving the next day for graduation and they all wish her safe travels. Everyone knows Jenna, who most recently painted the school’s new STEM lab when she was home on break.

When a prospective new parent and her daughter arrive unexpectedly, Jane stops what she is doing to greet them and take them on a tour, filling in for the school’s advancement director, who is unavailable. Sister Rosa moves near the phone to cover for Jane.

As lunchtime nears, a student comes to the office requesting an icepack for a classmate. “I think [he] has a blister,” says the small girl with a serious face. Jane compliments her shoes and the girl leaves beaming, icepack in hand.

The rest of the day is spent moving back and forth between planned tasks and spontaneous interaction with students, parents, teachers and others.

“You should know everybody,” said Jane. “You make connections with the parents with different things over the years… what they do, who’s sick, whose father’s not in good health.”

Jane said she felt a bit nervous when Sister Rosa arrived as the new principal in 2016, but any fear was quickly allayed by a smooth transition. “We have a common goal,” said Sister Rosa. “We try to do everything for the kids, the school.”

“We want to see them succeed,” said Jane.

This summer, Sister Rosa was assigned by her community, the Missionary Daughters of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, to lead nine women in formation in Nigeria. Jane is sad to see her go because they have become close friends. Sister Olga Cano, a fellow sister with many years of experience as a teacher and principal, will be stepping in.  “I feel very positive with Sister Olga,” said Jane. “She’ll just fall right into place.” And of course, she will have Jane right by her side.

“You should know everybody.” Jane Lambert, administrative assistant, Bishop Schad Regional School in Vineland