During quarantine, most Palo Alto High School students stay at home and are kept occupied with homework, hobbies and online extracurriculars. However, some students continue to go to work on top of that, including Paly students Kayla Stitt and Ilene Trach. Although the two of them may work in very different settings, they both have had to shift and adapt to new protocols and environments in various ways.

Kayla & coffee: Changes in work at Philz

“If anyone has a problem with their drink, we just have to have them toss it and then redo the entire thing because we can’t touch it again after they’ve touched it,” Palo Alto High School senior Kayla Stitt said. “That’s the protocol.”

Stitt is one of many students who works an afterschool job. She has been working at Philz Coffee since last July to help pay for college. 

Due to the new protocol and shelter-in-place orders, Stitt now has to change several different work habits. She wears gloves 24/7, keeps a mask on throughout the whole day and adjusted to a new system in which customers are limited to placing mobile orders to avoid a crowded shop and maintain social distancing.


“We had to get retrained on how to work during the coronavirus. We get paid the same but tips are a lot higher.”

— Kayla Stitt, senior


Another aspect that has changed is the size of the staff. Only half of the team was allowed to continue working, as the demand for employees has diminished as a result of the restricted hours the coffee shop is open.

“We had to get retrained on how to work during the coronavirus,” Stitt says. “We get paid the same, but tips are a lot higher.”

Despite a busier work schedule, the flexibility of online school has made her daily routine manageable. 

“I’m working a lot more — I’m working at 25 hours a week versus the 14 to 18 I was working during the school week,” Stitt says. “But honestly it [school work] is easier to manage since there’s less homework and more time to do it.”

Stitt has also observed that the coronavirus has generally changed the interactions between the staff and customers. 

“They [customers] will stand way farther apart from the table than they need and I can’t hear them,” Stitt says. “And then other people are way too close and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s way too close.’”

“We’re bringing new baked goods in every day for each other to try,” Stitt says. “We’re getting close — it kind of feels like a family.”

Chinatown cafe: Life in a family of essential workers

Pulling out of her driveway at 10 a.m., Palo Alto High School junior Ilene Trach gets comfortable, preparing herself for the hourlong commute to work and the day ahead of her. Once she steps foot into the store, business begins as usual. She starts making boba and smoothies, the sound of blenders filling her ears until the late hours of the night. 

Yet, this is not a typical work day for Trach. The high pitch hum of the blenders seem to pierce through the empty kitchen, devoid of employees. The chairs and tables on the second floor lie still, not having moved from their spot in over a month. The usually bustling streets of Chinatown are quiet and the weight of the mask on Trach’s face is unfamiliar, a constant reminder of this new way of life under COVID-19. 

Ever since the shelter-in-place order was announced in mid-March, Trach’s workdays have been significantly altered. Trach works at Sweetheart Cafe, her family’s business, located in Chinatown, San Francisco. The usual employees have been on paid leave for weeks, leaving it up to Trach and her family to make sure business runs smoothly.  

“Typically, there’s also other employees that work here … But then with corona, we don’t have employees anymore,” Trach says. “It’s just us, our family, so it really depends on us to keep it going and keep working.” 

Sweetheart Cafe, like many other businesses across the nation, had to implement safety precautions quickly to help minimize the spread of the virus, while also keeping their business afloat. In addition to having all their employees go on paid leave, the cafe is not allowing customers into the establishment without a mask and has created an online store for customers to place orders virtually.

Despite these recent adjustments, Trach maintains a positive outlook on the unusual situation. With their employees gone, Trach now spends all her time working alongside her sister and her parents.

“My favorite part [of working] is spending more time with my parents because they’re not home a lot,” Trach says. “So that’s an opportunity to spend more time with them.”

Being an Asian business in Chinatown, Trach’s family has experienced their fair share of racism while at work, although Trach has never been on the receiving end of such hate. 

“[My parents] would tell stories about how people would just walk in and do all this racist stuff, but you can’t really stop them,” Trach says. “But I’ve personally never experienced that.”


“My favorite part [of working] is spending more time with my parents because they’re not home a lot. So that’s an opportunity to spend more time with them.”

— Ilene Trach, junior


Despite all of these recent adjustments, Trach maintains a positive outlook on the situation. With their employees gone, Trach now spends all her time working alongside her sister and her parents.

“My favorite part [of working] is spending more time with my parents because they’re not home a lot,” Trach says. “So that’s an opportunity to spend more time with them.”

Being an Asian business in Chinatown, Trach’s family has experienced their fair share of racism while at work, although Trach has never been on the receiving end of such hate. 

“[My parents] would tell stories about how people would just walk in and do all this racist stuff, but you can’t really stop them,” Trach says. “But I’ve personally never experienced that.”

According to Trach, people have not gone any further than yelling. No situation has yet to escalate to violence.

Due to the current situation, business at the cafe has been slower than usual, and once Paly had entered Phase III of the school’s closure after spring break, Trach’s parents decided it was best for her and her sister to stay home as much as possible.

Although she goes to work much less frequently now for her own safety, Trach believes that someday, business will return to how it once was before COVID-19.

“I think right now it’s a temporary thing,” Trach says. “I don’t know how long: maybe a year, maybe half a year, a few months. But I think business will just go back to how it used to be … I think we’ll still have our online store open and we might set up Grubhub, Postmates or something like that, but it’ll probably just go back to normal.”

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