When the soft closure of area schools began in mid-March as a precautionary measure to curtail the potential spread of the coronavirus, a host of new problems suddenly appeared. First off, there was the concern about how students were going to complete the required studies with them all staying at home for what was hoped would be just an extended spring break.
Then it was determined that schools in Kamiah and Kooskia would remain closed for the duration of the school year. All of a sudden both school districts had to resolve the much bigger problem of how local kids were going to turn their homework in. School work assignments were to be given to the kids, who would complete the work and turn it back in. It would also be necessary to get students fed. Children in our area get both breakfast and lunch at school through a federal program that doesn’t impact school budgets or pull in money through levies. Additionally, in Kamiah meals are also supported by a generous donation from the Nez Perce Tribe.
A solution wasn’t long in coming. Teachers would put together learning packets with homework assignments that would be delivered by the school buses to students at their regular bus stops. Questions from parents or students could be handled through email, phone calls and even online learning resources. Likewise, meal packages containing breakfast and lunch would be prepared. These would also be delivered along with the learning packets by school bus.
Food service departments in both local districts got to work designing menus that could pack for travel and were easy to reheat (if needed) at home. These were good meals, too, and not just sandwiches. According to Jo Trudeau, Food Service director for the Kamiah School District, they have packaged up a variety of meals ranging from egg muffins and frittatas to burritos and pasta with meat sauce.
Menus over at the Mountain View School District are similar. Maureen Burney, their Food Service director, told us that her meals include egg muffins, hamburgers, pizza and even chicken strips.
Both district food service directors point out that these listed examples are just some of what is available and that all meals meet dietary requirements listed under federal and state guidelines.
Feeding our school children while the schools are on lockdown is important for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the school meals are of vital importance to low income families as many do not have the financial resources to suddenly start feeding their children two more meals a day, especially now that many have lost their jobs due to the virus situation.
Additionally, studies have shown that school meal programs have resulted in better overall grades for students as the meals provide important nutrition and energy to growing bodies and active minds.
Because of the home delivery of schoolwork and meals many local families have kept an income in the recessionary COVID economy. Bus drivers and food service staffs have kept their jobs, albeit with a reduction in hours. Bus drivers regularly run their routes before and after school, but now only make the trip once a day to deliver learning packets and meals. Food service workers were spending between 5-7 hours a day on the job. Now it is between 4-5 hours daily, because it is more efficient to package meals than serve them. Even so, these shortened hours allow these district employees to keep their benefits active.
Of course, not everyone lives far enough away to get food and learning delivered. Those too close to school to qualify for bus delivery can pick up meals and materials at schools in Kamiah and Kooskia.
When viewed in total, the number of meals packaged and delivered since late March in both school districts is somewhat staggering. Kamiah School District has sent out 17,000 meals and the number for Mountain View School District in Kooskia and Elk City is 18,928. When you include Grangeville’s figures into MVSD, their total is about 43,000 meals.
Getting meals prepared, packaged, buses loaded and meals delivered at this level requires almost military precision. To get learning packets and meals delivered in a timely manner (remember, we are talking breakfast and lunch), means that the buses have to be loaded with learning packets, meals, and staff to hand it out. In Kooskia, buses hit the road by 10 a.m. The bus director stands in the parking lot and according to Burney, “…waves them off like the start of a NASCAR race.” In Kamiah, the procedure is similar.
As you might expect, the delivery of meals and learning materials was a bit bumpy during the first few days. There was a bit of a learning curve for everyone at first, getting everything coordinated but now everything is going smoothly. Kitchen staff have the new routine down pat, drivers have adjusted and the kids know when to meet their buses to get and turn in school work and pick up their meals for the day.
Response from both students and their parents has been positive since the districts started the programs. According to both food service directors, they have received phone calls and cards thanking them for the great job that they are doing.
It is a job that for this year, at least, will soon end. Kamiah School District will stop delivering meals on May 29 (meals will not be delivered May 25, with normal delivery to resume May 26). Mountain View School District will continue their program until the end of June, with a week’s break between May 25-29.