Located in rural Oregon, the Estacada School District serves nearly 1,700 students, with about half of its’ students qualifying for free or reduced meals. So, when the school district had to close its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, school leaders worried about the strain it would put on families to be able to feed their children.

“We have a lot of families that may not have the gas money to receive the proper nutrition for their children,” Ryan Carpenter, the superintendent of the Estacada School District, tells TIME in a recent article. So the schools decided that the best thing to do would be to bring the meals to their students.

Excerpt from TIME article:

‘They Feel Like They’ve Been Remembered’: Bus Drivers Deliver Lunches to Kids Whose Schools Have Closed Due to Coronavirus

The Estacada School District’s newly established food service delivery program is made up of 35 to 40 staff members who prepare 750 breakfast and lunches a day. Bus drivers then deliver that food to the stops along their route where they’d usually pick up children. (Anyone who handles the food or interacts with children is required to wear gloves.)

It’s just one of many such delivery programs that have emerged around the U.S. since the coronavirus crisis began. From Michigan to Georgia, districts have found ways to bring school lunches to kids who rely on them.

Jody White, a bus driver who has driven for Estacada for 12 years, tells TIME that she thinks the children are comforted when they see the school bus pull up. “It’s been comforting to me,” she says, “and I have thank you cards from almost every stop this morning.”

Laura Frazey, a mom in Estacada whose kids receive meals from the delivery program, says the past few weeks have been scary for her. But, she adds, “The smile on our kids’ face when they feel like they’ve been remembered in this hard time is huge.”

Estacada bus driver Jody White was also featured in another TIME story that includes medical personnel, pastors, lawyers and even actor Chris Evans. In this article, White represents the entire Estacada staff that has gone above and beyond to deliver meals to homes, deliver devices and deliver internet hotspots to ensure that every student is fed and connected to their classroom.

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As the coronavirus outbreak has shut down schools across the country, it has complicated the lives of families who rely on the facilities for meals. Some school districts in states like Oregon, South Carolina and Georgia are trying to make sure these meals get delivered to students—and Jody White, 56, a bus driver in Estacada, Ore., is one of many nationwide who are staying on the road despite closures to make sure students on free and reduced-price lunch plans still get fed.

“I’m pretty sure they look forward to it because when we pull up they’re all smiles,” White says. “This, right now, what we’re going through, is not the norm for [kids], and so when they see a bus pull up, that’s the norm for them,” she says. “It helps them a little bit, I hope.” She has some evidence it’s working: she’s been inundated with thank-you cards “from almost every stop.” Sanya Mansoor, TIME

Journalists at TIME initially reached out through the school district through Twitter and later connected with Superintendent Ryan Carpenter, parent Laura Frazey and White.

Carpenter told the Pamplin Media Group that he hopes school staff and community members “feel supported through a tough time” because of TIME’s recognition.

“Our vision has been to be a premier school district, and the exemplary work that our staff has done during this time of change and crisis has shown that we are well on our way to achieving this vision,” he said.

Estacada School District Communications Director Maggie Kelly said she hopes the coverage “brings people some light in a tough time and can help them feel proud of this community.”

Estacada Takes on Distance Learning

Aside from feeding its’ students, the Estacada School District has made excellent strides in their virtual learning efforts. With student and staff safety and health in mind, the Estacada School Board voted in early March to proactively close all Estacada schools and transition to distance learning.

All students are equipped with the tools they need to engage in their innovative distance learning program. Elementary students were sent home with packets, while secondary students were given Chromebook lessons via Google Classroom and Canvas.

Throughout the virtual school day, students are required to check in with their teacher(s) once per day. Also, all teacher’s have been reaching out to students via email, phone or Zoom video conference. Access to learning for all students has remained a priority for the school district. The district’s teachers and technology staff quickly worked to identify many students that didn’t have internet and distributed hotspots to provide internet access.

Additionally, for students with special needs, learning specialists, teachers, case managers and paraeducators are all working together to ensure that children’s individual needs are met during distance learning. The district has a ‘Virtual School Guidance‘ page on their website so that students and parents can get a better understanding of what is happening and can ask questions and contact someone when needed. Most importantly, Estacada wants the community to know that they are not alone in this and that the school district is here for support!

Sources: TIME, Meet the Uniters and Special Delivery | Photo:TIME | Estacada School District program highlighted by Time Magazine, Pamplin Media Group | Virtual School Guidance, Estacada School District

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