Schools reach out with food, laptops, child care, videos
Eight hundred meals a day. Four hundred and thirty bags of food for weekends. Daily videos and prompts to inspire art and writing. Laptops on loan for all students who need them. Science, math and language arts worksheets.
When schools closed two weeks ago, the staff at the Methow Valley School District rallied to continue vital services for more than 700 students. The staff was fortunate that they had a scheduled professional-development day when a statewide school closure was already widely anticipated, and they devoted part of that day to planning. That afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee made the formal announcement shuttering schools for six weeks.
School staff took the first few days to coordinate preparation, packaging and delivery of breakfast and lunch — not only for those who attend public school, but also for all children in the valley who wanted meals. In the first few days, food services staff made about 325 breakfasts and lunches. That quickly rose to 650 and, last week, it hit 800, Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable said.
No meals or learning packets during spring break
Meals, classwork and child care will be suspended during the scheduled spring break, from Monday, April 6, through Friday, April 10. Staff contracts don’t cover work during the break, but the school will be reaching out to community organizations that may be able to fill the gap, Methow Valley Superintendent Tom Venable said.
Meals are being delivered by bus drivers, with help from teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals. They’re following handling and disinfection guidelines from school nurse Adriana Vanbianchi.
“The best way for me to keep in touch with students is by seeing students and families at the morning bus routes and lunchtime drop zones,” Methow Valley Elementary Principal Paul Gutzler said by email. “It can be challenging as students will want a hug, fist bump, or high-five. I’m developing an ‘air’ high-five in a silly attempt to make a connection.”
Fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Duguay also took the opportunity to help with distribution. “I have wonderful families and kids and I just miss them so much. I rode the bus on Monday and also helped at a drop point and I kept getting teary-eyed,” she said by email.
The school district launched a child care program for children of health care workers and first responders on March 30. Seven students have signed up and the program may be extended to other essential employees such as grocery store workers, Venable said.
The child care program takes place mostly outdoors, but there is also a designated classroom that gets extra cleaning, Venable said. “Trying to keep kids 6 feet apart is likely one of the biggest challenges,” he said.
The school district received $50,000 from an anonymous donor last week to help cover services during the economic upheaval. The Winthrop Kiwanis’ Family Empowerment Foundation will allocate the funds, Venable said.
The donation has already provided $9,000 to The Cove to offset the cost of the Friday Food bags. Demand for the non-perishable food for the weekend skyrocketed from 130 before the school closure to 418 last week, program coordinator Jennifer Elden said.
District staff worry that the shutdown will exacerbate short-term and long-term needs. “The most vulnerable families and children are often the first to be impacted and the last to recover,” Venable said.
Approaches to teaching
Teachers have been preparing educational activities that can be sent home on buses or accessed online. They’re in touch with students by phone, email, video chat, and platforms like Google Hangouts Meet. Many send handwritten notes with individualized ideas.
The district has delivered about 50 computers and, for students without internet access, arranged for a hotspot on the TwispWorks campus. As of last week, there were fewer than 10 families who don’t have internet access but would like it, Venable said.
Junior high math teacher Keri Miles is offering several approaches to math lessons — online tools and games, printed materials, and worksheets — to give students and families a choice. It seems to be working — in just seven days, her students logged 2,175 learning and practice minutes on one online math resource.
Erik Brooks created “ART IS…,” a collection of 30 prompts and reminders for making art, plus 30 ideas to inspire a daily drawing, for his high school art students.
Brooks also stars in a series of videos called “Back in the Excellent Art Room,” where he expounds on ideas and connects with the kids while talking about art. “Sometimes I am just talking while I draw — a sort of ongoing patter that might remind them at any time about things we have talked about before,” he said by email. Brooks is also encouraging students to post their work on an online gallery and on Instagram, and hopes to create an exhibit of student artwork created over the break when school resumes.
Some of Brooks’ students devised their own creative projects. “I’ve already heard from several kids that are Mod-Podging magazine images onto their Vans (shoes), or doing acrylic paintings or spray painting phone cases on their own at home,” he said.
As teachers get feedback from students and families, they’re retooling the materials to make things easier to access, Miles said. “It’s been a great learning experience for teachers to figure out what works best, and to find new educational technology resources and share them with colleagues,” she said.
The enrichment packets provide structure for students’ daily routines, a connection to their teacher, and something to look forward to, Gutzler said. “Families have been incredibly kind, appreciative and patient as we all adjust to a new normal,” he said.