In most ways, Patricia Martinez's job as a translator for Greater Albany Public Schools is exactly the same as it's been for the past decade.
She just commutes from a little farther away now: specifically, Costa Rica.
Martinez is a consultant for the school district's Welcome Center, whose mission is to connect families with resources to help their children be successful in school, and to support the district's work toward equity while helping staff members to understand the community's needs.
Often, the resources new families need involve translating information and documents into their first language.
Martinez, a naturalized U.S. citizen who grew up in Peru, is a native Spanish speaker with a degree in architecture. She has worked on translation services with the school district since 2008, the year after the Welcome Center opened its offices at 701 19th Ave. SE. For the past year and a half, she's been doing her work from Central America.
GAPS works with other independent contractors, but Martinez is the only one to do so internationally on a long-term basis.
"It's a very unusual circumstance: a unique skill set, a longtime employee with relationships in the district — very unique," said Randy Lary, the district's director of human resources.
Ideally, Lary said, the district prefers its employees to be local. However, he added, "Patricia has certainly proven herself long-term as extremely skilled and very reliable.”
Martinez hadn't intended to move away from Albany, or at least, not when she did. She and her husband, Robert, had visited Costa Rica for a vacation and declared they would go there on retirement.
It wasn't long, however, before the couple decided they didn't want to wait. Robert wanted to open a bed and breakfast, and Patricia thought she might be able to keep her Albany job — if district officials and her supervisor, Heather Huzefka, would allow it to happen.
Huzefka and the district were willing to explore the idea of telecommuting. Martinez began her work in December 2016 from her new home in Playa Panama, Guanacaste — and by all accounts, the arrangement is working well.
"We were able to keep connected, and the district really saw a benefit," Huzefka said.
Living in Costa Rica, Martinez learned she couldn't be considered a full-fledged Albany employee anymore, because of the complications of trying to provide worker's comp insurance to an employee in another country. But she could be reclassified as a consultant, as long as she found her own insurance.
Martinez uses her laptop to translate documents and links to Google Hangouts to do videoconferencing with Huzefka and Welcome Center coworkers Rocelia Francisco, also a translator, and David Jazmin, the district's family and community liaison.
It's a benefit to the district, Huzefka said, because GAPS didn't have to lose Martinez's expertise. Without her there the office has one fewer person to answer phones or make time for center visitors, but on the other hand, she can concentrate on translation work full-time, which frees up her colleagues for other duties.
Martinez continues to make presentations and participate in trainings through online video conferences. "The only thing I have to do is open a laptop, and I'm there," she said.
In fact, Martinez added, the transition has been seamless enough that sometimes her physical absence hasn't even been noticed. "Some of the bilingual assistants were like, 'You're not here?'" she said, laughing.
"It's a great working relationship," added Jazmin, her coworker. "It's nice you can still send jokes electronically."
Costa Rica is one to two hours ahead of the Pacific Northwest, depending on daylight saving time, so that's also a benefit, Martinez said. In the winter, she's two hours ahead of everyone, which means if the school district needs to get word out quickly to Spanish-speakers about weather-related class disruptions, she's already up and working.
According to the district's business office, the contract Martinez works under costs the district pretty much the same amount as it did when she was living in Albany. She pays her own travel costs when she comes back to town a couple of times a year. And the Google apps the Welcome Center relies on the rest of the time don't cost extra.
For Martinez, telecommuting is a way to stay connected to an office, and a community, she loves.
"I know everyone says I live in paradise, but paradise can be lonely," she said. "This community saw my daughter grow up. I continue to pay taxes here. Sometimes I know more about what's going on in Albany than people who live here."
"It's a privilege to continue working with the school district," she went on, "not only because I work with wonderful people but because I think Albany has wonderful support for families; I think all families.
"I'm very proud to be a part of the beginning of the history of the Welcome Center and continuing to be with the Welcome Center."