#BeGreat Spotlight: Nikki Joseph-Bailey

In 2020, COVID-19 drastically redefined educators' roles. Our team at Be Industries had the opportunity to interview Nikki Joseph-Bailey, Director of School Operations at KIPP East New Orleans, to learn how she led a team of 90 teachers from the start of COVID-19 lockdown to the school reopening, all with a newborn in one arm.  This is her story.  
When U.S. schools closed early last March, Nikki “was at home with a little-bitty, brand new baby,” but as COVID-19 spread across the nation, she had to come out of maternity leave right away to secure PPE, implement COVID-19 processes and ensure her students, faculty and community were taken care of. 
“PPE was everything for us, it allowed students to come back to school and to learn in person. It was everything. I'm so thankful to Be Industries for providing this PPE because it was a huge challenge for us to figure out how to secure PPE for an organization of this size.”  
Nikki’s role overlooks student meal preparation, managing school budgets, organizing school bus schedules, amongst other responsibilities, which were all heavily impacted at the onset of the pandemic. 
To regain control of their school from COVID-19 and smoothly transition to a virtual educational setting, Nikki focused on providing necessary resources to the 1,000 students KIPP East serves. To accomplish this mission, Nikki and her team emerged as community leaders by arranging contactless drive-throughs and food drives. 
“We had to have devices in kids’ hands, so of course, you roll your sleeves up and start a pick-up car drive-through.”
The contactless drive throughs enabled parents to come by and pick-up tablets, computers, and other devices for their kids. Nikki and her team supplied 500  school supply packages to ensure all students could succeed in online classes.
In collaboration with KIPP East’s food service provider, Nikki organized food drives to create hubs that allowed families to pick up their meals. Even when families could not pick up food, “teachers were willing to leave their own homes to deliver food, drop stuff off on your steps…most of our kids get their best meal here, so getting food to those families was one of the most important things to me,” Nikki stated. 
“My team of 90 teachers came together and we got it done. We worked day and night, the teachers didn't want to go home. They all wanted to get virtual school started as soon as possible.”  
PPE was vital in KIPP East’s journey to reopening its doors, and it was especially important for creating valuable  moments of connection. In addition to creating a positive difference in their students’ lives, these drive-throughs also provided Nikki and her team with something they desperately needed, the chance for personal connection in a time when it was so sorely missed.
All the work on the drive-throughs was socially distanced, and the team wore masks, gloves, and sanitizer to keep everyone safe. This was all still so new to everyone and, “it was hard to motivate each other because we couldn't really connect the way we were used to.” However, when the cars began to come by, they finally saw the familiar faces of the kids.
“They hadn’t seen their teachers in a few weeks, so it was super exciting to see five and six-year-olds waving out the window. They wanted to get out of the car really bad to hug their teachers,” Nikki recalled.
Even though they were behind masks and six feet apart, those very things enabled the teachers to get that spark of connection again. This connection became a force of reassurance for Nikki and the other teachers; “we needed it because we were all kind of like ‘what's going on in the world,’ but then we got to see those smiling faces. It was super awesome.” 

Nikki’s journey from exiting maternity leave, to navigating the transition to virtual learning, to successfully reopening the school was not easy. It took a lot of work and sacrifice, and still does to this day, but she does it because she wants the best for her students. Nikki put it best when she said:
“This work is passionate. This work is hard, and you really have to dig deep and remind yourself why you’re in this work.”
Each new day in this pandemic brings a new challenge, but Nikki is prepared to face whatever comes her way.
“I'm willing to do anything I can to support our teachers, students and our families, and it requires everyone. It requires all of us.”