myHR: News from Penn's Division of Human Resources

myHR: August 5, 2020

Navigating the New School Year During COVID-19

Mom putting face mask on sonIn a few weeks, children will start a new school year. What that will look like depends on where you live and your family’s needs. School districts have begun revealing their re-opening plans, and parents are preparing their children for navigating their education during COVID-19. Whether your children will go back to the classroom, learn from home, or experience a combination of both, Penn has tips for helping staff and faculty get their kids ready to learn this fall.  

Caroline Watts, Director of the Office of School and Community Engagement, Graduate School of Education (GSE), says preparing for the new school year depends on your child’s individual personality, gifts and needs.

“You know their likes, dislikes, worries, sensitivities, and strengths,” says Watts, also Senior Lecturer of Professional Counseling Programs at GSE. “You know how they best respond to challenges and what kinds of supports work best for them. Draw on all of that in preparing for school this year.”

Watts shares the following guidance to help parents get their kids ready.

Tips for Preparing Kids to Go Back to Class:

  1. Talk to your children. Ask your children about their hopes and concerns for the upcoming school year. Find out if there is anything you can do to address their worries. For example, if your child is concerned about sitting next to classmates, contact the school to see what the plans are for social distancing in the classroom and then share that information with your children.
  2. Get supplies. This school year calls for more than paper, pencils, and your child’s backpack. Masks and hand sanitizer are certain to top the supplies list so make sure your child has enough of both. Maybe your child has a certain mask he likes to wear. Stock up on those and any other items that would help your child feel comfortable. Some schools will not serve hot meals or open their cafeterias, so consider what your child will be taking for lunch and plan to include some favorite healthy treats to brighten the day.
  3. Communicate with school leaders. What type of outreach is planned to welcome students back? Will the principal send a message that focuses on the positive and assures students that they will be safe? If your child has special education needs, identify the aides or resource specialists that will be working with them. Also, ask if you can visit the building to view the safety measures that have been put in place such as plastic shields to partition desks or hand sanitizer stations in hallways. If in-person tours aren’t possible, ask if a virtual tour or photos will be available.
  4. Discuss opportunities for interaction. Depending on how your child’s school will structure the school day, there might not be a lot of time for social interaction with classmates during school hours. Identify some activities that your child and classmates can engage in after school, but in a socially distant way. For example, you can set up time with 2 to 3 of your child’s friends and hold a Zoom call to do class assignments together or just chat.
  5. Investigate bus and transport protocol. Ask about your school’s transportation plans, make sure your child knows them, and have them practice before school starts. For instance, if children will be required to wear a face mask on the bus, make sure your child has one and some hand sanitizer in the backpack.

Tips for Preparing Kids to Learn Online: 

  1. Set time limits. According to the School District of Philadelphia, students should have no more than 90 minutes of uninterrupted screen time with a maximum of three hours each day. A 6.5-hour school day doesn’t translate into 6.5 straight hours of learning online. Consider how much time your child is expected to learn remotely each day. Identify the structure of their activities and segment them into things that they can do on their own, with guided instruction, and as groups.
  2. Create a schedule. Establish routines as you would during a normal school year and stick to them. If your child would ride his bike after the school day or practice her instrument once homework is done, keep those activities as part of the day to maintain variety and keep your children engaged.
  3. Identify school space. Your child probably won’t have his own office or a classroom-style desk, but you can create a defined space for your child to learn remotely. Pick a place where your child would be comfortable but also able to focus and be productive.
  4. Take breaks. A normal school day typically has Physical Education, lunch, and maybe study hall, depending on the grade level. Incorporate these breaks into your child’s remote learning. Have her go outside to get fresh air, maybe walk the neighborhood, or practice some soccer or cheerleading drills. Make time for friendship, creativity and fun.
  5. Engage with others. Schedule time for your children to interact with their friends and classmates so they don’t feel isolated. Have your children complete homework assignments or special projects over Zoom, the phone, or even in the back yard, socially distanced of course. 

In addition to these tips, you can also access these resources:

Making the Right Hire for the Job 

Online interviewHave you ever hired someone you thought was the perfect fit for a position, only to have the new hire clash with colleagues, generate customer complaints, or repeatedly miss deadlines for assignments? You can avoid these so-called “bad hires” by creating an interview process that uses specific types of questions to find the right match for your organization. Penn’s virtual workshop, Behavioral Interviews, will show you how.

According to a survey by CareerBuilder, 69 percent of organizations have been adversely affected by a bad hire in the past year. Bringing on the wrong person can decrease productivity, reduce morale, create legal issues, and cost you the time required to hire and train another person.

In Behavioral Interviews, held August 20 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., you will learn the fundamentals of using this type of interview to hire the right person for the job, while minimizing potential problems.

The basic premise of behavioral interviewing is that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Therefore, you should ask candidates questions that relate to specific past experiences. That way you will gain the most useful information to evaluate a candidate’s potential performance in the job for which they are applying.

“By using this structured interview process with set behavioral-based interview questions and probing follow-up questions, you can ensure that you are using an evidence-based approach to hire the right candidate,” says Jamie Apgar, Talent Development Coordinator, Talent Development.

Apgar, the workshop’s facilitator, says by attending the class participants will increase their ability to:

  • Use competencies to develop behavioral-based questions.
  • Recognize the characteristics of, and effectively develop, behavioral-based questions.
  • Identify the elements to look for in candidates’ answers to behavioral-based questions.
  • Follow a structured method for evaluating candidates objectively.

Apgar will also discuss the goals of behavioral interviewing and provide general tips for interviewing candidates.

Register today for Behavioral Interviews and find the best employees for your organization. 

For more information about Penn’s Talent Development programs, visit

Seth Fitzgerald: A Pillar of Excellence Behind the Scenes at the Annenberg Center

Seth Fitzgerald, housekeeper, and Pillar of Excellence Award Honoree

Seth Fitzgerald has been a Housekeeper at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts since 2015. Last year, Fitzgerald was focused on preparing the space for a season of live music, dance, and cinematic events. These days, the Annenberg Center is streaming performances and offering online content until live gatherings can resume safely, but building maintenance continues.

Following health and safety precautions, Fitzgerald and other housekeeping staff work limited shifts on a rotating basis in facilities across campus, including the Annenberg complex. His behind-the-scenes effort earned him a 2020 Pillars of Excellence Award for weekly-paid staff as part of the Models of Excellence staff appreciation program.

Models of Excellence honors individual staff members and staff teams throughout Penn. The program welcomes nominations from staff, faculty, and other members of the Penn community. Last fall, Fitzgerald was nominated for a Pillars of Excellence award to recognize his remarkable initiative and dedication as a Housekeeper.

Professional cleaning seems to run in Fitzgerald’s family. “It’s very much an intergenerational thing,” he says. His grandmother was a housekeeper for Northeastern Hospital, which was located in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.

As a teen living in Port Richmond, he worked for his mother’s cleaning business, going to local schools during summers to wash the desks and strip and wax floors. After high school graduation, he tried to get a job at Penn, where his stepfather worked in housekeeping and continues to do so today. Fitzgerald would ask his stepdad, “Is Penn Hiring?” For a while, the answer was, “Not yet. I'll let you know.”

On his 19th birthday, Fitzgerald interviewed for a housekeeping job at Penn. He was hired in 2011.

Before his Annenberg Center assignment, Fitzgerald worked in Wharton School and Residential Services buildings. He appreciates the Annenberg space because it allows him to work on larger projects.

“I like big open areas.”

The Annenberg Center’s wide modernist lobbies and theaters like the 960-seat Zellerbach give him plenty of square footage where he can work independently.

Fitzgerald says housekeeping in a performing arts facility does present unique challenges.

“The hardest thing to clean is actually makeup,” he says. Apparently, performers can’t help leaving the stuff on dressing room surfaces.

Another challenge that Fitzgerald conquered was a mysterious carpet stain that kept reappearing until he did a little research on an extra piece of carpet he found.

He discovered that the center had changed its carpet cleaning process. That’s why the stain kept coming back. “People said, ‘You didn't have to do that.’ Yeah, I kind of did.” Says Fitzgerald. “You know, when green spots keep showing up, people start asking questions.”

“We actually ended up changing chemicals,” he says. “We had the Penn Eco-reps coming in.” He says he appreciates the fact that environmental safety issues are investigated before new cleaning supplies reach the housekeepers.

Fitzgerald’s carpet research is one example of extraordinary proactive efforts that led his coworkers to nominate him for the Models of Excellence recognition.

He also researched caring for the 50-year old brass railings in the Annenberg Center lobby.

“Seth found a sealer to protect the brass,” says James Cackovich, Associate Director of Production and Facilities. This eliminated days of effort trying to clean railings only to have them look dull again. Cackovich also praised Fitzgerald for scrubbing years of dust build-up from backstage steps which people would track into public spaces. A few dropped drinks at a catered event could require cleaning entire floor areas, until Fitzgerald found an efficient way to spot-clean spills. By getting to the root of the problems, Fitzgerald increased the Center’s beauty while saving time for himself and fellow housekeepers.

Working at the Annenberg Center has provided Fitzgerald with unique opportunities besides “grease paint” removal, brass coating research, and carpet chemistry. When The Daily Show with Trevor Noah used the Annenberg Center to tape a week of specials, Fitzgerald started volunteering as an usher. He continued volunteering until stay-at-home orders put live theater on hold. Being an usher brought out his excellent customer service skills and let him demonstrate his knowledge of the building to theatre patrons.

“I know where everything is, to the point where people say, hey, this is Seth's building.”

Fitzgerald is gracious with theater goers as well as fellow staff members, including the dozens of part-time ushers and concessionaires.

“As we onboard new workers each year, Seth is always a friendly face who makes them feel more at ease,” says Front of the House Manager Beth Jamieson. “He is never too busy to help steer an usher toward the right place or help a concessionaire find the first aid kit.”

Through the Annenberg Center, Fitzgerald also connected with School of Arts and Sciences staff member and organist Kevin Chun, who introduced him to the craft of pipe organ repair. Fitzgerald says he met Chun “by virtue of us eating lunch at the same time.” As he recalls, “Kevin was telling me about this organ he was trying to restore in Northeast Philadelphia. So, I started helping him on the weekends.”

While Fitzgerald appreciates Chun’s mastery of the pipe organ, his artist of choice for his housekeeping shift soundtrack is Green Day. Of course, when other staff members are around, he keeps his music “family friendly.”

In spite of his performing arts connections, Fitzgerald doesn’t seek the spotlight. He said receiving his Pillars of Excellence award was “cool,” but he admits he didn’t exactly miss being onstage for the ceremony this spring. He enjoyed watching other FRES honorees receive their awards in previous years, still he says the thought of doing the same thing “was exciting, but also very nerve wracking.”

When asked to share advice for other housekeepers, Fitzgerald’s says, “There's no magic secret thing. Just pay attention, be adaptable, be friendly to other people. This is all stuff that we're told on day one.” Yet, it’s clear that Fitzgerald’s work performance takes housekeeping beyond the basics. Thanks to his dedication, Annenberg staff members, performers, and audiences could experience live entertainment in a clean, distraction-free space—something we can’t take for granted these days. He may not perform magic, but his work deserves bravos from the Penn community.

You can give other outstanding staff members the opportunity to receive campus-wide recognition by nominating them for the 2021 Models of Excellence Awards. The call for nominations opens in September. You can learn more about the online nomination process at upcoming virtual workshops.

For more information and updates, visit

Addressing Emotional and Physical Burnout

Busy and fatigued mom juggling work and child

As the Penn Community continues to contend with COVID-19, many of us are faced with making decisions about our children returning to school, a loss of routine social outlets, and uncertainties around resuming onsite work. This can create stress, anxiety, and fatigue. The good news is that you can face these stressors, avoid burnout, and improve your emotional well-being. Penn is here to help by offering programs such as the virtual workshop Quarantine Fatigue: Avoiding Burnout on August 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

In this workshop participants will learn:

  • The signs and symptoms of burnout
  • The consequences of burnout to ourselves and others  
  • Burnout vs depression vs fatigue
  • Strategies for coping with change
  • Holistic solutions as a means to achieve positive emotional health

Workshop facilitator Matt Verdecchia, Senior Trainer and Director of Organizational Development for Health Advocate and Penn’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), will share tips on how to stay connected while we physically distance. He will also offer additional resources to address emotional and physical fatigue.

“It is natural and justified to feel stress, fatigue, sadness, anger, guilt, or any other constellation of negative emotions, especially now,” Verdecchia says.

“The challenge is how to navigate these feelings, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors,” he says.

Verdecchia says that you must first know the signs that something is amiss. Some common indicators he will discuss include:

  • Symptoms of emotional and physical exhaustion, such as headaches and muscle aches
  • A negative mindset about your work or career situation
  • Withdrawing from new responsibilities, challenges, and people
  • Difficulty sticking to regular self-care such as exercise and eating well
  • Feeling like everything is overwhelming or your efforts are futile

Verdecchia will also explore how to navigate “decision fatigue,” a condition many have experienced during the pandemic as a result of having to constantly make difficult choices in an unsettling new context.

“Decision fatigue is part of burnout because of the misguided expectations we have of ourselves to respond immediately to absolutely everything coming at us, but you don’t always have to make instant choices,” he says.

With the right resources, mindset, and connections that encourage positive conversation, Verdecchia says you can prevent burnout and ease the psychological, emotional, and physical stress of our current time. 

“In every single challenge there are always options to improve your emotional health,” he says.

Register now for Quarantine Fatigue: Avoiding Burnout. For more virtual workshops, visit the Events and Registration webpage.

Penn’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides eligible faculty and staff and their families access to free, confidential, 24/7 counseling and referral services for personal and professional life issues from any location. For 24/7 counseling, call 1-866-799-2329.

You can also contact Penn EAP at

Healthy Meals: Lemon-Herb Risotto with Shrimp and Haricots Verts

Lemon-herb risotto with shrimp and haricots vertsThis creamy lemon-herb risotto is easy to make and filled with colorful flavor and nutrients. Fresh green beans add a tasty crunch and boost of vitamins A, C, and K. Cooked shrimp gives texture and a great source of protein.

Find the recipe here.

Click here to send us your healthy recipes and tips.

Did You Know: Recording Bonus Actions with Attestation Forms

For the 2020-2021 Be in the Know campaign year, recording completed Bonus Actions is quick and easy. For Bonus Actions that require proof of completion, you can now earn credit using an Attestation Form. These online forms replace the Proof of Bonus Actions Form. They can be completed right on the Virgin Pulse platform's Rewards page. For more information on which Bonus Actions require an Attestation Form and how to access them, visit the Bonus Actions webpage.



Story Tips

Is there a Human Resources benefit, program or service you'd like to hear more about?

Send us your suggestions.