Across the College, staff members connect with students before students step into a classroom or meet a professor, often through the enrollment and registration process, through the Financial Aid Office. They also support them in labs, tutoring centers, and food service throughout the semester. Indirectly, they support them by keeping facilities safe and clean, securing supplies, and communicating with them via social media—among many others. So, when MC staff saw students needed help at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, they mobilized to help. The staff union at MC, a chapter of AFSCME, diverted $75,000 of their remaining professional development budget to the Office of Student Affairs to help students in need.
The money was directed to the Montgomery College Foundation, to supplement an emergency fund, which helps students on a case-by-case basis. During the pandemic, the transition to remote learning and the economic consequences of shelter in place created new and pressing needs for many students, including an urgent need for laptops and assistance with rent payments. By early May, the College and foundation had received 1,600 requests.
AFSCME leaders Chris Standing and Margaret “Peggy” LaRocca spearheaded the effort.
“The students really needed the money to transition to remote learning,” said LaRocca, who works as administrative aide at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus’ Writing, Reading and Language Center and works with students several times a week. “They were in immediate need of money for food, for support after losing jobs, and for technical support that would enable them to finish their classes.”
LaRocca’s concern for students is representative of many MC staff who work outside the classroom. They develop relationships with students and care about their wellbeing.
Their desire to help and their commitment to the students is one of the big reasons MC is a special institution
“We meet with a lot of students every day,” said Standing, lab coordinator at the Rockville Campus Biology Department. “If they need an encouraging word, we are there, and that’s what we do a lot. Those are little things that are overlooked. We are there to make sure students have a very good experience.”
Standing and LaRocca brought the idea to the rest of the union and received overwhelming support. Next, they worked with the Employee and Labor Relations Office at the College to renegotiate their contract to account for this change.
“The generosity of AFSCME Local 2380 cannot be overstated,” said Santo Scrimenti, interim director of employee and labor relations at the College, who has worked closely with LaRocca and Standing. “Their desire to help and their commitment to the students is one of the big reasons MC is a special institution, and the recent gesture truly proves that. Thanks to all our AFSCME members.”
After the contract change was finalized, the union voted unanimously to approve it. The funds will be distributed through the College’s Student Affairs Office under the oversight of Melissa Gregory.
“The number of requests for emergency assistance we are still receiving is staggering, and our students are struggling to get by day to day,” Dr. Gregory said. “Our staff are truly putting students first with this caring action.”