When the recommendation came in mid-March for Johns Hopkins staffers to work from home, CTY assistant director of financial aid Andrea Lewis grabbed all the paperwork she thought she'd need, her laptop, and one of the two large monitors that make her work, heavy with data analysis, easier.
"We didn't know how long we'd be gone," says Lewis, who as head of her Center for Talented Youth department manages two full-time and two casual staffers. "We had to figure out what we'd need, and then adjust to how do we get things done with limited technology? And not everyone has an office at home, so another challenge was finding space."
For Lewis, who shares a Randallstown home with sons Carter, 4, and Alijah, 10, finding space has required a little creativity. To ensure Alijah could focus on his sixth-grade virtual classes, Lewis ceded the dining room table and set up two white boards nearby to help track his class schedule and homework assignments. For her own work, she heads to the living room for video calls or her bedroom if she needs quiet space. "I don't go down to the basement because I like to make sure Alijah's in class," she says with a laugh.
Because his father is an essential worker, Carter has been able to remain in daycare, though he isn't always happy with the arrangement. "He was worried we were home having fun without him," Lewis says. "But then when I keep him home, he's mad because we're working and can't play with him."
Certainly, for Lewis, there's been no shortage of work to be done. She's been busy tackling the usual challenges of managing the financial aid aspects of CTY's summer, online, family academic, and talent search programs, plus the new hurdles presented by COVID-19, which struck just as CTY was ramping up for its always popular summer sessions. In her first weeks at home that meant a flurry of contingency planning for possible closures and then, once summer sessions were canceled, managing refunds, handling a surge in online program applications, and developing new policies for families facing financial hardships due to COVID-19. Lewis—a CTY alum and parent—also worked with the rest of the CTY team to develop CTY Live, an online replacement for in-person summer sessions.
To avoid the work-from-home trap of never really logging off, Lewis sets a daily goal of finishing work by 4:30, "5 at the latest," she says. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't." Once she's off the clock, "on good days I'll go get the little one and take [the boys] outside if it's nice and let them run around a bit." If they're inside, it's games or movies and sometimes as a treat an ordered-in meal ("I definitely need to buy stock in DoorDash," Lewis jokes).
The experience has given Lewis a new appreciation for the technology she once relied on—she's found that she rarely uses her one large monitor at home, instead crunching numbers on her more portable laptop, with its less-than-ideal small screen. She's also realized the importance of the now-missing breaks, whether they come in the form of eating lunch, a quick hallway chat with co-workers, or even just a few quiet moments between meetings. "One of the things I've struggled with while I'm here is just nonstop working," says Lewis, whose schedule of back-to-back Zoom meetings leaves little room for daytime downtime. The contrast has made her realize how vital those breaks can be, for both herself and her staff. "When I get back to the office, I want to make sure that I have those gaps in my schedule," she says. "I don't think I realized how important they are."