The coronavirus outbreak may have closed Arizona schools, but across the state, educators and staff are scrambling to provide students with free meals while keeping them connected through distance learning.
Both Sierra Vista and Tombstone school districts started free breakfast and lunch programs on Monday at designated distribution sites. Also on Monday, TUSD distributed laptops to those students who do not have them at home. SVUSD gave out Chromebooks on Tuesday to elementary and middle school students. The devices allow students to stay connected to teachers through distance learning so they can complete assignments without falling behind while schools are closed.
All children through 18 years of age are given the free breakfast and lunch packets at designated drop-off points in both districts.
“The free meals are provided to children who show up at one of our sites, even if they are not enrolled in our school district,” said Tammi Brice, TUSD Food Service Director. “Monday was the first day we gave out the meals and we were slammed. We had a great response and everything went really well.”
More than 60 meals were provided in less than 15 minutes at Huachuca City School, the first of several drop-off points for the Huachuca City and Whetstone areas, with the meals delivered by school bus. A second bus ran in Tombstone, with Walter J. Meyer School as the first stop.
“We delivered 486 breakfast and lunch packets across the district and more than 125 computers to our students that first day,” TUSD Superintendent Robert Devere said. “Even though schools are closed, we are continuing to provide special services such as counseling and homework hotlines.”
Devere praised teachers and district support staff for the way they came together to help make the distributions a smooth process for parents and students.
“I want to thank everyone involved,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed by the dedication of our teachers and staff.”
With all the unknowns that schools and students are facing, Devere said everyone is working together to get through a tough situation.
“We have some of the greatest kids in the world,” he said. “Keep in mind that during this time, our great kids are going through some pretty tough stuff ... all of us are struggling with this. And all of us are working to get through this together.”
Sierra Vista Unified School District handed out 722 meals on Monday, with that amount jumping to 1,133 during Wednesday’s distribution. SVUSD delivers the meal packets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, offering a two-day supply on Monday and Wednesday.
An estimated 150 and 200 Chromebooks were distributed at the Sierra Vista School District sites.
Joyce Clark Middle School Principal Roger Hill reported a smooth distribution process.
“We are happy about the positive feedback we’re hearing,” he said. “Parents and students were great. Our support staff was fabulous in their hard work and organization.”
At Village Meadows Elementary School, Principal Nichole Gittus said around 200 families came for Chromebooks or worksheet packets. Because of appointment times, people were in and out under five minutes, she said.
“Parents were amazing with signing documents, materials and were so friendly,” she said. “The families have been in frequent contact with teachers on what to do on the Chromebooks and how to work with them when needed.”
Similar comments were heard at the SVUSD governing board meeting Tuesday evening.
“I have been so impressed with our district’s response to what’s going on nationally, across the world and in our state,” said board member Holly Sheriff. “With all the changes made on the fly, every staff member in this district is such a superhero in everything they’ve been able to pull off with no time and no complaints. Everyone just pitched in and did what needed to be done … it’s the dream team of people pulling this off and I just can’t thank you enough.”
While schools are closed through April 10, that time could be extended. To date, there are more questions than answers.
“It’s the unknowns that make this so difficult for everyone,” said SVUSD Governing Board President Barbara Williams. “As an educator, I know I always liked to have my schedule and my semester planned. People are showing such flexibility in their ability to be innovative and creative and I’m so grateful. Thank you to every single person.”