Among the Montrose School District faculty members handing out lunches in front of the school on March 17 were (top, from left) first-grade teacher Robyn Lubash, kindergarten instructor Heidi Zenger, high school personal care aide Karen Spence and high school learning support teacher Kathy Pierce. Above, Montrose high school French and speech teacher Donna Fassler and high school instructional aide Patty Bendock hand off lunches to a district family.
Photos and story by Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Susquehanna County Independent)
With the announcement from Gov. Tom Wolf late on Friday, March 13 that schools would be closed for at least two weeks starting the following Monday, administrators and faculty across Susquehanna County scrambled to figure out how to keep students fed during their unexpected spring break. The practices differed from one district to another and are still evolving, but the sense of urgency was unanimous.
“Everybody has some plan in place,” said Chris McComb, Montrose Area School District (MASD) superintendent. As the district’s food service department set in motion arrangements for drive-through lunch pick-ups, other staff members set about the task of emptying the schools, giving them a good cleaning, and locking down the buildings until the students can return.
The situation at MASD was unique in that March 13 was a teacher in-service day. Faculty members never had an opportunity to communicate directly with their students before the mandate took effect. “The turnaround was such a short notice,” McComb related. “We sent a one-call out to our families to let them know.”
Some students were let back into the schools on March 16 to get items from their lockers, such as musical instruments that they preferred to have at home with them. Teachers were encouraged on March 17 to stop into their respective school buildings to retrieve anything from their classrooms that they would need for the next two weeks or more.
A number of other faculty members pitched in to help the cafeteria staff prepare and distribute the free lunches, which are available to all students with no need for income verification. McComb admitted that the first few days of the program were experimental.
On the first day of drive-up pick-ups, only 10 families were assisted at Choconut Valley Elementary School. Members of McComb’s team surmised that many more were simply unable to get there. On March 17, there was a consistent stream of vehicles into the parking lot and up to the main entrance of Montrose High School, where 70 meals had been distributed the previous day.
“We are working to streamline the process and considering delivery,” McComb explained. Another possibility is partnering with local food banks and transitioning into a weekly delivery instead of daily pick-ups. “We will reassess the situation through an online survey to find out who is in need and their preference of delivery or pickup.”
Simultaneously, with all of the students and most of the district’s 260 employees sent home, custodial staff are methodically sanitizing each classroom and closing the doors to them. “We’re just trying to make sure that when we get the go-ahead to get back to school, we will be ready,” said McComb. “We’re trying to eliminate any possible exposure moving forward, following the guidelines that we’re given.” He expected a web conference with the state’s Department of Education on March 18 to provide further guidance.
McComb was hoping last week that most of the custodial staff would be sent home by Friday, leaving behind a skeleton crew of administrators and clerical staff. Even they will be able to do most of their work from home where they have access to phones, files, and payroll if the school closure continues.
In the meantime, the food distribution will continue, and McComb was proud to note that the community was already stepping up to help with the district’s efforts. “The amount of response from people who have expressed a desire to volunteer is incredible,” he stated. “People are coming out of the woodwork who want to help, and we are trying to find the best way to utilize the help.”
As McComb related, all school districts in Susquehanna County have developed plans to keep their students fed, and a general synopisis of their responses follows. Note that the information was current last week but may have changed since then. The best advise that school administrators can give to parents of students at this time is to check with their respective school’s website on a regular basis.
In the Blue Ridge School District, delivery of meals to remote locations was set to begin on March 19. Parents who want to pick up lunches at the school, Jackson Baptist Church or the fire halls in Great Bend, Hallstead or New Milford were asked to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-465-3141 ext 603 or ext 607.
Registration by phone is the process by which the Forest City Regional School District has managed their food distribution program. Called the ‘Grab and Go’ program and available for all children in the district age 18 or younger, pickup points included Uniondale Methodist Church, Pleasant Mount Social Center, and the Forest City Elementary School traffic circle. The Children’s Produce Market is open at the High School from 1 to 3 p.m.
Mountain View School District is also offering ‘Grab and Go’ breakfast/lunch between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. until further notice in front of the high school lobby. The time for the weekly Children’s Produce Market has been changed to coincide with the lunch pick-ups. A notice on the district’s website indicates that the food is free for all children living within the Mountain View School District, but no registration information is provided.
Instructions for those in the Susquehanna Community School District are easy to find under the School Closure Meal Program tab. Registration can be accomplished via email at email@example.com or by calling 570-853-4921 ext. 1314. The page is updated daily by superintendent Bronson Stone. Meals can be picked up in the elementary school’s bus lane, but district officials are also doing their best to get food to families without transportation.
For information on the Elk Lake School District, see separate story here.