Unsung heroes work behind the scenes to keep CA students safe and fed

Many might argue that everyone who has been working or teaching in a school during COVID-19 deserves an award. One person working behind the scenes at Colorado Academy actually did earn an award. And another unsung hero says that celebrating his 37th anniversary at CA in January will be award enough.

Paul Worley

When General Manager of Sodexo Food Service Paul Worley looks back at the challenges of feeding 1,200 students plus faculty and staff without being able to gather at the Campus Center because of COVID-19 precautions, he shakes his head. “Now I know how to run a sandwich factory,” he says. “We have cooks and chefs who can do a plated dinner under a tent for 670 people in a downpour, and for the first month we were back at school this year, all they did was make sandwiches.”

Worley also had to become a master of delivery—what he likes to call the “Uber Eats of CA.”

“Delivery was a priority, and the minute something was wrong, we had to fix it,” he says.

Every day, he and his team delivered baskets filled with sack lunches to 93 locations around campus. Included in the delivery were more than 90 bags containing meals for students with special dietary restrictions. Worley carried the list with him at all times: vegetarian, no pork, no beef, no egg, gluten free, gluten free and no egg, no peppers, gluten and dairy free, cut-up apples and carrots.

“I had two of my staff doing nothing but fulfilling special dietary requirements,” he says. “We wanted to be accommodating. And I vowed that no one would go home hungry.”

When his staff wasn’t preparing meals, they were cleaning the food preparation area with new COVID-specific disinfectants. Looking back at the year, Worley designates the time when all students received sack lunches as Phase 1. Phase 2 started when all Lower School students returned to school, but Middle and Upper School students remained on the CA Flex schedule. The next phase meant moving to hot food served buffet-style outside. As it got colder, he moved service indoors and added salads, but students continued to eat outside as often as weather permitted.

“Watching the Lower School students sitting on their beach towels and seeing the teachers in the Adirondack chairs felt like it was a good social situation,” Worley says. “We really missed hearing the kids chatter, and we enjoyed listening to them outside.”

Chef Paul during an episode of “Back Burner”

Going above and beyond

For all his hard work and success, it wasn’t feeding students in school that earned Worley an award from Sodexo leadership. It was something he did last spring when 100 percent of CA students were on remote learning.

“Everyone was on an island all over the city,” Worley says. “I wanted to bring them together for something that is fun and relate it to something I know well—and that is food.”

Inspired by a Zoom demonstration of “How to make challah bread” that a colleague sent him, Worley had an epiphany. “As soon as I saw it, I understood how Zoom worked,” he says. “And I said, ‘We can do that!’”

Worley started with simple Zoom demonstrations for students. He did “How do you cut an onion?” and followed it up with videos about cutting carrots, bell peppers, and garlic.

It might have ended there, except for a trip he made to the grocery store, only to discover that there was no meat available—except ribs. So, he realized, his family would eat ribs for dinner. That’s when it hit him—could he expand his food preparation mini-lessons into cooking classes for students? He would offering shopping lists on Monday and teach different cooking techniques as students prepared their family’s Friday night dinner. “Having a family dinner is more important than just eating,” Worley says. “You plan, prepare, work together, and then sit down and enjoy listening to each other. We couldn’t travel, but foods from different cultures open our world without leaving the dinner table.”

Worley did eight presentations, dubbed “Back Burner with Chef Paul,” in two months. They were a runaway success with CA families, prompting a flood of thank-you notes from parents and students.

“We eat like kings on Friday night!”

“Epic feast! And fun to cook!

 “Thank you for everything you have done before and during these hard times. Your Friday night classes have gotten me more interested in cooking, so I just wanted to say thank you. I can’t wait until tonight’s class.”

Worley’s managers at Sodexo took note and encouraged other independent schools to follow his lead. Recently, Sodexo awarded him with their “extra, extraordinary award” for going “above and beyond what has become our new normal during COVID-19.”

Albert Archuleta

In his 37 years at Colorado Academy, Custodian Albert Archuleta has seen his share of strange and challenging times at CA.

There was the giant owl stalking him at 3 a.m. as he walked across campus.

There were the pre-golf cart days, when he had to hike in and out of trenches while the school’s fire hydrants were being updated.

And there were the frigid winter months of Lower School remodeling while students were learning in trailers, when he had to carry a vacuum and buckets of water from trailer to trailer to do his job.

But of everything he has faced, nothing competes with 2020.

“COVID-19 is the strangest thing I have ever seen,” Archuleta says. “The masks, the distancing, no hugging, no shaking hands, no chatting, or eating together with the rest of the staff. I will not miss COVID!

Albert Archuleta (on the end, far left) with the maintenance and housekeeping crew nearly four decades ago

‘They work hard’

Albert in the Lower School in the 1980s

In January 1984, Archuleta came to CA fresh from high school, hired as a temporary worker to help out while Carlos Olivas was recovering from surgery. Back then, when he told his friends where he was working, they were surprised to learn there was a large, beautiful campus, hidden away in Denver.

He thought he might stay at CA for a year. That year turned into two years, then five, then 10, 15, and now, 37. He has seen the custodial staff more than triple from the original five housekeepers. Throughout many

Carlos Olivas and Albert clean floors in the Lower School

changes, Archuleta has cheerfully and dutifully performed every job he’s been assigned, from grounds, to maintenance, to supervisory responsibilities on the custodial crew. “Whatever the school needs to have done, I’ve been willing to do it,” he says. “And I have a crew that is like an army. They work hard.”

When the pandemic forced CA to start remote learning last spring, it came as a shock to Archuleta’s system. “It was so quiet—it was like a ghost town at CA,” he says. “And when the students came back this fall, it was great, because it brought life back to the campus.”

If you see Archuleta these days, odds are he will be disinfecting anything a human being may have touched. Ask him how clean CA is, and he does not hesitate. “It’s 100 percent clean. It’s clean and disinfected. We’ve always kept it clean, but now we are at a new level for the students and faculty.”

‘Keeping us safe’

In presenting the Head of School’s Award for Distinguished Service to Archuleta last spring, Dr. Mike Davis honored him with these words: “He has seen decades of change and continuity at Colorado Academy. He arrives every day, no matter the weather or circumstances, ready to give his utmost to keep our school looking its best. And in this unsettling age of COVID-19, he is also keeping us safe.”

For his part, Archuleta still lives by the advice his father gave him: “Everybody is somebody, treat everyone equally, show kindness and respect to all, never be afraid of work, and just keep on going.”

But in this strangest of times brought on by COVID-19, Archuleta has learned one more lesson—“We used to take things for granted,” he says. “After this, I will always remember to appreciate life and people.”