How public schools, ASU are meeting the challenges

Wood Elementary Coach Timothy Tesch joined the team of staff delivering computers to help kids with schoolwork while they’re furloughed from class. — Photos by Billy Hardiman for Wrangler News

Editor’s note: The following article was published before Governor Ducey’s new executive order for schools to remain closed through the end of the school year. For details on this state-wide proclamation, click here. Otherwise, to see how local schools have helped their communities throughout the crisis, continue reading.

By Diana Nelson

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, Gov. Doug Ducey extended statewide school closures through April 10. It seems the guidance on COVID-19—the official name of the virus—changes on a daily basis. While day-to-day life at schools is not the same, what remains steadfast is the dedication of school officials, educators and other staff who work for the three Tempe-based school districts to support students through this time of national crisis.

While the front doors of the schools are locked and the classrooms are vacant, plenty of work is going on behind the scenes at all of the district offices and at all level of employees.

A brief discussion with Emma Kitzman, nutrition services supervisor of the Tempe Elementary School District, focuses on the care and concern for students that food service workers continue to demonstrate during this challenging time.

“My employees are out on the front lines every day and risk their own health if they come in contact with someone who has the virus,” said Kitzman.

“But I am pleased to say that most of the food service workers are coming in for their shift, as a sign of their dedication to the kids in the district and the community.”

Even though Tempe and West Chandler schools were closed due to the threat of COVID-19, that didn’t stop the staff of Wood Elementary and Marcos de Niza High School from providing tasty breakfast and lunch for kids under age 18.

She oversees about 100 employees who prepare meals for students. Usually they keep food service humming in a cafeteria where meals cost about $2.50 each. Now, during the school closures, employees are delivering meals curbside as the district is making free meals available for all children under the age of 18 who live in the district.

During distribution of the “grab-and-go” meals, Kitzman says employees have received thanks from the kids as well as the parents, many among the latter who have become temporarily unemployed.

“In the Guadalupe community, at Frank school, we served about 1,000 meals this week. We change the food items included in the sack each day, so that it’s not the same meal,” said Kitzman.

She does the meal planning and strives to serve a wholesome, well-balanced meal, she says. In a typical day, the breakfast would include a carton of milk and cereal, a bagel or granola bar, while lunch could include a cheese stick along with a turkey sandwich, fresh fruit and vegetables.

In addition to the meals, Tempe Elementary handed out a district-issued Chromebook or iPad for students’ use during this time of school closure.

While completing assignments is optional (they won’t be graded), it is highly encouraged, says district superintendent Christine Busch, so students can maintain their mastery over classroom materials.

Johnny Calvin with his delicious meal from school.

Each day, staff in the district refresh the online content and post educational activities for students at tempeschools.org

Busch says she is grateful for the community’s support of the district, but also recognizes the contributions being made by many people who are serving others.

“In this unprecedented time our world is facing, the real stories are those of the heroes. Our healthcare providers and first responders who leave their families every day risking their lives to care for others; our grocery and drug store employees who ensure that everyone has what they need to meet their basic needs of food, medicine and supplies; our restaurant owners and their employees who are thinking out of the box and innovating to provide food to the community in safe and unique ways.

Finally, parents, educators and community partners who are working to create, innovate and collaborate to keep educating, feeding and caring for our amazing children who will ultimately find the solutions to the problems we face as a global society.”

Information about how the Kyrene School District is providing services to students and families is available at kyrene.org.

The district says it has created a user-friendly website that contains useful information. Click onto the Emergency Preparedness page to find resources for at-home learning; the location and times of bagged meal distribution; and the ability to sign up for text messages from the district to receive any updates.

In addition, Kyrene’s Family Resource Center is open on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. for food boxes and hygiene items. Donations also are being accepted at the center, 1330 E. Dava Drive, Tempe.

Communications staff in the Kyrene district say a message from Superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely was written especially for students at home. Plans are being developed to provide laptops to families who do not have computer access in the home—details will be posted on the district’s web page.

Information about schools in the Tempe Union High School District is available at tempeunion.org/health-safety. Staff say many of the questions students and families have can be answered on this webpage.

Additionally, meals are being distributed at McClintock, Tempe and Marcos de Niza high schools. The district did distribute laptops for students to use, so if you still need one, send an email to the district office.

ASU introduces on-line tool

Announced by Michael Crow, ASU president:

“The spread of COVID-19 may necessitate changes in the way we learn, but it does not change our desire to continue learning or the importance of doing so. We know as precautions are taken to ensure the safety of our communities; we must find new methods to keep learning on track for everyone at every level.

“That’s why Arizona State University has accelerated plans to provide learning tools and materials to keep all learners on track by launching the new ASU For You.

The remote learning website at: https://asuforyou.asu.edu offers resources for teachers, adults seeking continuing education and some for-credit courses.

Arizona State Legislature

State legislators, concerned that classes may not resume for the rest of the school year, have introduced a contingency plan for extended school closures through the end of May.

Under the plan, introduced by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Allen, lawmakers would suspend a rule requiring students to be in school a minimum of 180 days, so students would not have to return to make up days over the summer.

The bill has two contingency clauses. If schools reopen before the end of the school term, the bill waives instructional hour requirements and extends the window to administer the state’s standardized test until May 31.

Additionally, all school employees, hourly or otherwise, will receive pay for the duration of the closure, and schools can use the higher of their letter grades from either the 2018-2019 or 2019-2020 school years.

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