Staff Keeps Patel Students Coming and Going Safely

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Snow and gloom shouldn’t be issues but rain and heat? Hoo boy.

Pictured: a typical summer day in the great state of Florida.

The Patel Conservatory staff members (“these couriers”) responsible for couriering summer campers from parents’ cars to classrooms in the morning, and vice-versa in the afternoon (“their appointed rounds”), know all about it.

They’re also familiar with potential courier-staying factors such as traffic, noise and dust from nearby construction sites, parents who on any given day could be anxious, irritable, scared and sure they had to be somewhere five minutes ago, and, of course, their children who on any given day could be anxious, irritable, scared and not sure they want to be here at all.

“It doesn’t happen often, but if they’ve never been to anything away from their parents before, that can be emotional,” said Erin Smith, admissions manager. “Our best trick is distraction.”

That means a quick “see you later” from mom or dad, and then swiftly escorting the child to the proper camp. Attitudes improve once the child sees others having fun.

The child who cries on day one will be looking forward to camp by day three, Erin said.  

Youngsters adjust quickly. Parents may need more time. It’s vital to make sure parents see that staff knows, appreciates and cares for their children.

One way the staff members display this is by greeting each child by name – no mean feat when there can be as many as 350 students arriving on any given morning.  

“When we greet them in the morning, we’re also taking attendance at that time, making sure they’re getting their name tags and making sure we know how many kids are coming into the building at any given time,” said Alice Santana, vice president of Education and Community Engagement.

Alice Santana, Vice President of Education & Community Engagement for the Patel Conservatory.

Learning students’ names doesn’t just make the youngsters feel welcome and their parents feel more secure. It’s vital information for staff working to keep kids safe and get them where they’re going.  

“We work with the names a lot before the kids even get here,” said Erin.  

“We also prepare name badges for them, which they wear throughout the day,” said Summer Camp Director Keishlie Figueroa. “So we also see them and we can see their tags, and that’s another way of memorizing the names.”

Camp day starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. Pre-camp, from 8-9 a.m., and Post-camp, 4-6 p.m., gives parents a little flexibility.

The pre- and post-campgrounds (also known as The Chairman’s Library) are stocked with materials for drawing and coloring, as well as board games, puzzles, even origami guides. “We also have a TV set up in the Library with a subscription to Disney+, so when all else fails, we can put on a movie,” Erin said.

If drop-off can be daunting, pick-up can seem even more so, with a line of cars stretching back onto Doyle Carlton Drive and a few hundred students to match with parents.

Parents have visor signs with their child’s name on them, and staff has walkie-talkies which help get students from the building to their rides.

And then there’s rain, always a safe bet on a Florida afternoon. Each student being picked up is walked to their car by an umbrella-carrying staff member.

Pictured: also a typical summer day in the great state of Florida.

Parents sometimes express irritation about the time it takes to safely transport students from the building to their cars. But safety will always trump speed when performing this task. On a good day, though, the students are dispersed quickly enough to impress even the most impatient guardian.

“Once we get going, we can get all the students out in 10 minutes,” Erin said. “Our record is seven minutes.”

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