When someone calls or walks into a Ferndale school, the first voice they hear is an administrative assistant. On the morning of January 20, before students arrived at Cascadia Elementary School, many callers – a parent saying their kid was staying home sick, the Sea Mar Community Health Center asking for the nurse’s fax number, a substitute staff member – heard Jane Hoffman say “Cascadia Elementary, this is Jane!”
Hoffman also greeted a steady stream of substitutes that morning with their lesson plans, a classroom key and a smile. One substitute teacher admits to her that before coming in, she was singing the “Reading Rainbow” theme song in the parking lot.
“I hear all sorts of stories,” Hoffman said with a chuckle.
Shortly afterwards, fellow administrative assistant Patty Padilla-Gonzalez joined Hoffman in welcoming staff, students and families into Cascadia. But Ferndale School District’s administrative assistants have many responsibilities beyond greeting. Hoffman and Padilla-Gonzalez each have unique roles at Cascadia that keep the school humming and ensure that all families, students and staff feel welcomed.
Hoffman has worked at Cascadia since the building opened in the early 2010s – briefly as a paraeducator, but primarily as an administrative assistant. She said she’s always enjoyed working in an office setting.
“I’ve just always been drawn to it – I like customer service type things, greeting people,” Hoffman said. “I love paperwork; I know that’s crazy!”
Hoffman typically starts her day at 8 a.m., an hour before the other two administrative assistants, Padilla-Gonzalez and Sara Green. To start her day, Hoffman brews the coffee in the staff lounge, checks which staff members have requested substitutes, and answers all calls.
Hoffman also serves as the guide for substitutes who come into the building. She has them sign in, hands them attendance sheets and their classroom key, and answers any questions they may have.
Another major aspect of Hoffman’s job is assisting Principal Dawn Christiana with a variety of tasks. The two meet most mornings before school to work on the weekly newsletter, discuss building budget-related items, figure out staffing, and more. Hoffman said she and Christiana make a great pair.
“We think a lot alike,” she said.
Part of Hoffman’s job – and the job of all three Cascadia administrative assistants – is a variety of tasks that other staff ask for her help with. For example, that morning, she printed out “Property of Cascadia” stickers and put them on a bunch of new hourglasses.
“Things come up on a daily basis that we don’t do normally but we adapt,” Hoffman said. “That’s what makes it fun!”
While Hoffman spends much of her day helping Cascadia’s staff, Padilla-Gonzalez mostly works with families and students. In particular, her specialty is assisting Cascadia’s Spanish-speaking families. About a third of Cascadia’s students are Hispanic and/or Latino, and about 19% of Cascadia students are English Language Learners. Padilla-Gonzalez is one of three bilingual administrative assistants at Ferndale.
Padilla-Gonzalez said her favorite part of the job is being a friendly person for Cascadia’s Spanish-speaking families and students to connect with.
“I love seeing the relief on kids’ and families’ faces when they see they can talk in their native language with me,” she said. “Seeing them coming in confused and they don’t know where to start, but as soon as they know I speak Spanish, you see it on their face: ‘Oh, I feel understood.’”
Every morning, Padilla-Gonzalez meets with a few Spanish-speaking students in the office for about 15 minutes each. They chat in Spanish about school, color, and read picture books in both English and Spanish – strengthening their literacy skills in two languages at once. Padilla-Gonzalez said she hopes to make school a little more comfortable for these students.
“If you start a new job or go into a place you’ve never been to, you feel nervous,” she said. “Can you imagine that, plus not speaking the language?”
Padilla-Gonzalez, who moved to Lynden from a small town in Mexico at age 14, said she can relate to these students.
“When I first moved to the United States, I didn’t speak English,” she said. “The people that worked at the school made it not so bad, so I wanted to return the favor.”
When she began at Cascadia in October, Padilla-Gonzalez called every Spanish-speaking family at Cascadia to let them know they could speak with her. She also has assisted Christiana in principal-family meetings by interpreting.
Christiana had nothing but praise for Padilla-Gonzalez and her work with Cascadia’s Spanish-speaking students.
“To speak English all day long, and not be able to have a relaxing moment to speak your home language, is hard,” Christiana said. “Patty gives them that respite.”
Padilla-Gonzalez and Hoffman both said they love the Cascadia front office team.
“I like our camaraderie,” Hoffman said.
“I feel lucky to work with Jane,” Padilla-Gonzalez added. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to do what I do without them.”