Education Matters: Schools as community partners
Schools do a lot more than providing education, they are pillars in communities that also provide students' and families' with supports for social, emotional, and physical needs. On today's show, we will talk with some amazing guests that are making sure the whole child and the community are taken care of, especially during COVID-19.
Welcome to education matters presented by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. I'm your host. Maryanne Wolf Schools do a lot more than providing education. They are pillars and communities that also provides students and families with support for social, emotional and physical needs. On today's show, we will talk with some amazing guests that are making sure the whole child and the community or taken care of, especially during Cove in 19. I'm so pleased today to be joined by Julie Page Pittman, the education outreach manager at North Carolina. No kid hungry who will soon be taking on a new role. A special adviser to the superintendent focused on educator engagement. We are also joined by Reginald Ross, the operations consultant at North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and president of the School Nutrition Association. But I'd love to start Reggie with you. Schools provide meals too many students that may not get a meal otherwise. And right now, during Cove in 19, with school buildings being closed or on hybrid schedules, it's been a especially difficult, making sure that kids have enough food. Can you tell us more about the extent of the need across the state. And what kind of volume district's air taking on to make sure that all of our students and families have food? You know, When it was announced back on March 13th that schools would be closing due to cover, 19 school nutrition directors across, our great state immediately went to work to come up with plans to feed our students, understanding that there was a tremendous need out there, uh, to reach a majority of our students who otherwise may not have that opportunity to receive nutritious meals. And as the months have moved forward, our directors have done an incredible job in serving meals. Initially, it was strictly in the classroom, a curbside. But then we realized that we had students who did not have access to schools. So we came up with other means, and that included activity in school Busses as well to reach our students. And then, as the months went on, we realized also that we needed to provide me is more than just for one day that we needed to provide meals for maybe 123 or even a week. And so our directors came up with plans to send out box meals to our students to make certain that our students as well as our families were being fed across this great state. So our directors have worked very hard during this period to ensure meals were reaching our students. And when you actually talked about numbers, I just wanted to share these assed faras. Our great state is concerned. During the 2018 19 school year, we served over 73 million. Breakfast is in 136 million lunches to our students for the entire school year. And as this pandemic began, we started to see numbers where we were only serving maybe 5 10% of the meals that we normally serve. So but we have built on that, and now we're getting closer to numbers that we've done in the past. We haven't reached 100% but we may be between 25 to 50% of the meals that we normally served. So we recognize that there is a need out there to feed students across this great state, and we're doing everything we can along with working with our partners like the Y, M C. A or the boys and girls clubs where they set up that we can deliver meals there as well and feed our students. So it has really been, ah, a great combination of School District's as well as our ally partners working together to reach our students and feed them nutritious meals. I think it's really important to highlight what Reggie said about how USDA is extended this waiver so that all kids can get meals at no cost. Um, kids who are enrolled or not enrolled, who were under the age of 18 can get meals at no cost. And and the importance of that is we don't know what this pandemic has done financially and economically and emotionally to our families. Prior to the pandemic, we had kids who were identified as being qualified for reduced price meals. We don't know who those kids are anymore because the amount of families whose financial, um capability has changed. Um, allowing these kids to be ableto have free or no cost meals, reduces the stigma and just allows everybody to have a meal with no questions, asked Julie. I'd love to hear a little bit from you about how no kid hungry is trying to help students and some of the solutions that you aim to provide. Sure. Well, we're doing everything that we can to try Thio help reduce the barriers to school meals during this unprecedented time when school meals just look differently. And, as Reggie said, Um, it's just hard to reach all the kids because they're not in the building every day. This crisis has brought on unique challenges not only for school nutrition but also for educators and parents and students. Um, and among one of the most important challenges is ensuring that our kids get the meals that they need to succeed. So no kid hungry North Carolina has done an incredible, uh, trying thio eliminates, um, funding barriers we have granted in North Carolina over a million dollars to various district's and community organizations to try to help overcome some of the obstacles they have. You know, a lot of times, it's just if kids Aaron remote learning and they're not able to get to the schoolhouse for, like a grab and go pop pick up their meal, then schools were trying to deliver those meals, either through yellow Busses, Um, in Anson County. One of the problems was that their yellow Busses couldn't even make it down. Some of the roads were some of their kids live, so they applied for a grant, and we were able to offer them a grant to purchase a van to be able to deliver meals. It's just really important that we know that we're trying Thio overcome those challenges, support our school nutrition programs and community organizations across the state and try to get more healthy meals tome or kids every single day and and thio to help celebrate the tireless work that the school nutrition heroes have been doing. We're just really excited to be able to tell those stories and to continue to support school, nutrition and community organizations while we're feeding our kids body, mind and soul single day. Well, thank you. And Julie, I'd love to just follow up. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the partnerships in place across the state, but also in local districts. And how those help to tackle food insecurity? Yeah, I think one of the I mean, there are examples about this in every single district where there are partnerships that air happening today. Ed NC released a Nart ical that's written about Graham County and what's happening there. Their schools are their community hubs there, the anchors in their communities, but they're suffering with with childhood hunger. So they're partnering with faith based organizations and community organizations to make sure that not only do they have the financial capacity to meet the kids that are enrolled and living in those communities, but also the ability to do it with fidelity to make sure that foods are meeting meal patterns, that they are temperature appropriate, that they're able to be delivered to students who are in need on Ben, also working with um with, like school counselors and school psychologists who identify kids who may not be getting meals. That's just one example of what's happening across the state. What are you most proud of in terms of how our state communities and schools have responded to this important need? I am so proud of the relationships that have been developed during this process, you know, back when we got started back in March, we didn't realize that this pandemic will last as long as it's lasted, and so we were planning basically for short term to be able to feed students. But I have to say that along with the USDA, along with N C. D. A. Along with S and A and along with all of our school districts across the state, we really work together to make sure that we put together plans to feed our students. I'm very proud of the fact that we have really faced some great challenges with all of the hybrid plans from every school district and as a consultant. I worked with 41 different school food authorities, and they all had a different plan. So coming up with ways to feed students, we've all worked together. USDA is issued waivers for us that have really, really helped us to be able to feed students without ah lot of the administrative paperwork and issues that we might have had. So that's really helped out. And as we face the beginning of this school year, uh, you know, USDA granted an extension of the waivers which has helped us to be able basically defeat universal meals for all. Students had no charge, which has been fantastic, and those waivers have not been extended through June off 2021. So I'm just very proud of all of the great relationships. I am so proud. The school nutrition heroes that have come out of this process, you know, always knew that we had school. Nutrition heroes are people are absolutely fantastic. They work hard and and so many people sometimes don't see the work that goes on behind the scenes. But during this pandemic, the country, the state, the world has been able to see our heroes rise to the top. That we are essential to the success of our students in this state. And I am so proud of that and proud to be a part of this great profession called school nutrition. Personally, As we wrap up here, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how we might take what we've learned through this pandemic. And what might that do? And how might that affect the future? In terms of nutrition connections to families and community partnerships, the relationships and the perseverance, the creativity, the tireless amount of cooperation has really shone a light on the family approach to school nutrition that we have here in North Carolina on. But I'm just really proud of that work, the amount of of spotlight that has been put on, not on Lee food insecurity for kids and families, but also how schools and school, nutrition and community organizations who are doing this work to make sure our kids are fat are are essential at every step of a child growing life. Well, I want to thank you both so much for being here today, but also for the work you do every single day, and we look forward to continued partnership. After the break, we will be joined by Kesha Clemens, the 2020 Wells Fargo principal of the year in Austin Morris, a teacher at Pine Crest High School in Moore County. Education matters is brought to you each week in part by town bank serving, others enriching lives. We're so pleased to be joined by Kesha Clemens, who is the 2020 Wells Fargo principal of the year from Shoe Furred Elementary School in Newton, Conover schools, and Austin Morris, a social studies teacher, beginning teacher coordinator in an administrative intern at Pine Crest High School in Moore County. Thank you so much for being here, Kesha. I'd love to start with you schools certainly serve as an anchor for communities they always have, and more now than ever. I wonder if you could talk about what types of efforts your school is making to help keep the community strong. You know, our communities in our school serves as kind of the hub of the community. And, you know, if there is one positive outcome of of Cove it it is the connections that we've been able to make with our community. You know, the pandemic for everyone has been so tumultuous and like any other, um, national disasters or, you know, traumatic events. You know, it does bring communities together. And so I see that in such a positive outcome from all of this, we build stronger connections with our community. Um, one way is really working together to solve the problems, knowing that we're stronger together, and leaving that work is making sure that you're including, um, your families and community as a part of the decision making, because it affects all of us. So I think that has been really critical in building the community. Is the involvement the transparency about what is going on coming together to create? Um the safety protocols that we have to follow, um, educating our community on things. Sometimes we operate on things that may not be true. So as much information as we're able to give out about Cova 19 or anything else, I think strengthens that relationship in those connections. Um, you know, really preparing our, uh, school and community and families to being courageous. We know that we're going to encounter things that we've never encountered before. But I think preparing for that speaking, that sending that message that it is okay that we're going to face things we've never faced before. But we could do it together. Austin, I know something that really struck me about you. That really does align with what Kesha was just describing is just how important relationships are. And I wonder if you can share what kind of relationships or you and your school forming with the community with your families. That helps students both in and outside of the classroom. I think 2020 without question has been difficult for every family, every student and every educator you know for different reasons. But some silver linings that have come out of this year are I think we've seen a breaking down of barriers between the school and the communities we serve as principal, Clements mentioned, which has been a positive. And I also think that we have really seen a recognition that students, the families and the educators are really equal partners and providing a great individualized education for every student at our school. We've done that through a family learning Siri's program, where we've reached out to educate community members and family members about how we work together in this supportive partnership, and also other steps that we've taken to engage the community and to serve the community even during times of pandemic. And I would love to turn back to Kiesha just for a moment and ask you to focus a little bit on how have your efforts and connecting schools to community change since Cove in 19. Because everything that you emphasize is clearly part of what you dio in what you believe so similar toe Austin and I wonder, how has that changed in the past nine months? You know, I will say this. I kind of want to talk about the idea of equity. You know, that's not a new word toe education. It's not a new word, Um, but we are, I think, at this point understanding this concept of equity mawr now than we ever have. It's not that the barriers that that exists today haven't always been there to some degree, and the pandemic has just kind of enhanced and elevated some of the issues that we're facing. But I think what has change and I have to take the same change but really just strengthen our efforts in creating an equitable environment for our students. So we have always thought about, you know, creating programs to make sure students have or make sure that we're supporting our families with housing or even the technology needs, you know, making sure that we're providing them with materials so they have access to the curriculum. We've always done that, but I think it's just increased our understanding and being able to see things through the lens of our families a little more because now, with our Children being at home, you know when we're going into zoom or talk with them, you know we're seeing a little bit more of their environment, and they are because we're connecting with families Mawr, and we're connecting with students even more than we ever have. We're learning more about them, and so I think it has just shifted our lens. Equity has been a priority and what we do and believing that it is a part of everything we do in education. But it has opened my eyes to things that I had not been able to stand before. So I think that has changed across the board educators. Is the whole teacher staff really across our whole district? I think in speak about how much they have learned, and that has influenced how they interact with our families and communities. AUSTIN I'd love to dig in a little bit to some of the things that you've mentioned about how you really do have to support the whole student through relationships and knowing that that doesn't just mean with academics, but also mental health, nutrition and other needs. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your efforts to remain connected and to support the whole child As you go through your academic year. I don't want to say I think that principle Clements made great points. I completely agree with those, but I would just add a few things to add on to that. What is? I think, um, practices that are trauma informed are so important at this time right now, because I think many of our students, our families, and our educators are experiencing some form of trauma, you know, individually and collectively, you know, to a greater or lesser extent in 2020. I think social emotional competencies are so important. Andi, I think that's really been brought to the forefront additionally, and this would would tie in perfectly to Principal Clemens points. I think the digital divide has really come to the forefront as an equity issue right now that we have students who are very well situated on dear home learning environments where they have access to reliable Internet, you know, calm, safe place to do their homework and other students that are lacking in those essential tools. Now I'm very, very fortunate that I teach in the more county school district and pancreas high school where our district leaders from our superintendent, Dr Grimace e um you know, of course, my wife, Mariah, who's an inspirational leader on Benny. Others are aware of these needs to train educators and social emotional competency, Um, in best practices and really to reach out and be leaders in trying to get every single one of our students access reliably to the Internet to do their work from home to be successful. Digital divide is very real and very concerning for a lot of educators across the state. Right, Well, thank you so much. And in our last minute, I would love to just ask each of you to share is we look ahead to the next semester and the next school year. What do you need? What do we need in order to ensure educators and students are supported? Yeah, as my principal, Stephanie Phillips has created a slogan for the year. We are Patriots United, and I think that's perfect across the state of North Carolina. We need to all be united right now. This is a team approach. We need to make sure that we're still meeting the needs of every single student. I would also say to our community leaders, we need to make sure that funding for education is there such that when we come out the other side of this pandemic. We need to make sure we have excellent schools available to every single one of our students with open doors, you know, in their communities and open arms. And the resource is needed to meet the academic and the social emotional needs of all of our students. And just to reiterate some things that Mr Morris said, continue funding is is so important. You know, whether that is looking at supporting full time school nurses and social workers thinking about supplemental instructional support services that we can use to minimize, um, gaps. Really. Still helping our teachers and staff to know how to personalize learning in remote or hybrid um, environment, Um, and making sure that we are providing the technology and the the WiFi, the hot spots, all of those things that are kids need, and it's very different across our state. So we just have to be diligent, diligent about making sure that every kid everywhere has what they need, and it does take funding to make that happen. Well, I just want to thank you both so much for what you do every single day and for being here with us today and after the break this week's final worth. Schools continued to be the hubs of our communities, even when they're operating on remote or hybrid schedules, and they work to serve the whole child every day. This means that not only do schools, teachers and administrators strive to ensure students academic needs are met, but they also do so much to meet students and families. Social, emotional and physical needs a swell. This has never been more true, or, as important is now as many of our families face challenges brought on by the pandemic. Cove in 19 has brought to light the many inequities that have long been faced by our most vulnerable citizens and communities, ranging from food insecurity and access to housing to physical and mental health care, broadband access and educational opportunities. As these inequities air exacerbated by this global pandemic across our state, educators air, engaging in heroic efforts to ensure a growing proportion of our students and families have access to housing, nutrition and many other basic needs that must be in place before a child could begin the hard work of learning. Our school nutrition teams are working tirelessly with our Transportation Department, social workers and educators along with community and faith based partners to find creative ways to get food to all of our students. Three U. S. Department of Agriculture and Working with our North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has supported the ability to meet the needs through waivers. We're recognizing that more families may need help in addressing food insecurity than before the pandemic began. But we are also learning how we may support students in the future so that they are ready and able to learn principles. Educator, social workers, psychologists, nurses and counselors are working together to address the needs of the whole child through relationships and careful attention to social and emotional learning. While continuing to foster academic growth, we heard how important the investment in the relationships with students and families is to support each of our students. Efforts to support the whole child lay the foundation to ensure that all of our students can reach their full potential. While the pandemic has certainly made us very aware of our students needs including and beyond academics. We must also take what we're learning now and consider how we can continue to grow and advance our support of the whole child. We know a great deal about adverse childhood experiences or aces and other traumas that have a direct impact on a student's readiness toe. Learn Thes are a reality for our students in a pandemic. But we're also true before and will be important to address following Cove in 19. The recommended allocations of the critical student services personnel in our schools does do not match our reality today, and we must work together to ensure that our district's and schools have the capacity through the important roles of social workers, counselors, nurses, psychologists and others that allow us to meet the needs of each student and help them to thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Thank you for taking time with us. Tow, learn and think about education. That's all for today. And we'll see you next week, you know