Posted Date: 05/27/2021
Reflections on School during COVID and Looking Ahead to the Future
Part 1: Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child.
This is the first in a series of commentaries on the Pampa ISD experience during the COVID-19 crisis. I would like to share some reflections and lessons learned as well as shed light on the many factors we as a school district and community are facing as we plan for the future.
Although this experience has, at times, felt like a lifetime, this all began only a few weeks ago. For the PISD, that day was March 13, 2020—the day before Spring Break began. The world was watching as the Coronavirus began to attack and impact the daily lives of hundreds of people---far away from Pampa, Texas. On a day when we would normally have been gearing up for a much needed break, exciting trips, and just a chance to catch our breath, we began planning for this invisible enemy to find its way to the Panhandle of Texas. On this Friday, the 13th—yes, the ominous foreshading is not lost on us that this day was Friday the 13th—we gathered our leadership team and began planning for the “what-if’s” that might come our way.
Our planning on that Friday began with two primary goals: 1) The goal of Plan A was to be prepared to return to school after Spring Break with protocols and procedures in place for a soft return that included operational changes with social distancing. 2) The goal of Plan B was to develop a multi-faceted plan to provide services and instructional continuity to our 4000 students and staff in the event that we did not return to the campuses at all.
As you know, Plan B was implemented, very quickly, and we began rolling out our services and instructional continuity plans to our staff, students, parents, and the community. We know that the most critical piece of any plan is the quality and quantity of communication across multiple modes and targeted to multiple stakeholders. Knowing this, we launched numerous communication threads through our social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, and of course our Pampa ISD Website. We also engaged many internal systems including email, zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google meets. In fact, one of our first planning sessions was held with a hybrid mix of in-person staff and some “attending” through Google Meets-an application that allows for video/audio conferencing real time.
Our first priority was to ensure that we were addressing the needs of our students and staff. We developed a survey on the Friday before spring break that asked our students some basic questions about technology and Wi-Fi access. This baseline data was critical for helping us set up our remote instructional plans. With this information, we were able to begin preliminary planning for device distribution and Wi-Fi hotspots with local providers, Resound and AT&T. I will talk more about our technology plan in coming articles. Today, I would like to dig deeper into the first, basic service we provide--- serving the Whole Child.
At the very basic level, we know that we must ensure that our children are safe and have food to eat. On March 23, our staff called EACH of our students to conduct a basic needs assessment that included devices, Wi-Fi, food, healthcare, and even mental wellness through our social-emotional wellbeing protocols. Our staff made over 3500 phone calls in one day! The outcome of this massive database provided us with the information we needed to finalize our plans.
In nothing short of a miracle, we began distributing food to hundreds students just three days after the initial needs assessment phone calls. Our Cafeteria staff secured food from vendors and developed an amazing plan to cater and distribute safely more than 1000 meals a day. Several of our staff experienced immediate changes in their job-descriptions. Those who were once supporting learning in a classroom, found themselves preparing and distributing hundreds of pounds of food in eleven different sites around our community. The willingness of our staff to do whatever it took to meet the needs of our students was inspiring to watch. To date, we have served more than 30,000 meals and are planning to continue this throughout the summer.
The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) governs our school cafeteria operations. We are in constant communication with both agencies to ensure that we are not just following the many rules, but that we are utilizing everything at our disposal to serve our students and their families. As you know, we currently serve two meals during the scheduled distribution times at our eleven locations (10:30-12:30). Our summer plans will change somewhat due to TDA requirements and the needs of the students.
Summer Meal Plans:
Beginning May 27, we will be serving two meals at the four elementary campuses from 11:00-12:30. This will continue until June 30. Beginning July 1, we transition to a different summer feeding program where we will begin feeding sites at Lamar—Breakfast and Lunch (B—7:30 am to 8:30 am and L-11 am to 12:30 pm), Marcus Sanders—Lunch 11:45 am to 12:15 pm, Central Park—Lunch 11:30 am to 12:15 pm and Travis—Lunch 11:30 am to 12:15 pm. This program ends July 24. Also important to note, is the change in TDA rules regarding to whom we can distribute meals. For now, children are not required to be present. However, beginning May 27, only children between the ages of 1 and 18 can be served and they must be present on site. All of these details will be on our website as we get closer to the end of May.
2020-2021 School Year Meal Plans:
For now, we are being instructed both by the Federal Department of Education (USDE) and the State Education Agency (TEA) to plan for disrupted and mitigated re-entry into the next school year. What does that mean? Well, honestly, we are learning what that means every day. We simply cannot know the conditions of the community, state, nation, or the world in the future. For that, we would need a crystal ball. However, we do know enough to begin planning the “what-if’s”—just like we did on March 13, 2020.
Of course, our desire and Plan A is to return to school as normal in August. Plan B and Plan C will have a variety of protocol and operational changes. Some strategies that we are being told to consider and plan for include: staggered drop-off and release times and locations for students; serving meals in classrooms instead of gathering large numbers of students in the cafeteria; spreading students out in classrooms by limiting the number of students in the building at one time; developing plans for some face to face instruction and some virtual learning from home; and the list goes on and on. These ideas may seem radical to some, but they reflect the uncertainty in which we find ourselves today. Please know that regardless of what school “looks like” in the fall, we will continue our commitment to our students, families, staff, and community. We will continue to communicate with our stakeholders, gather their feedback and input, and will develop plans that reflect the mission of our district and our values of meeting the needs of the Whole child.
Stay tuned for more updates on our meal plans for the future as well as many other aspects of “how we do school”. In the next commentary, I will share more about how we leveraged technology to meet the needs of our students and engage our community in all facets of school. I will also give you a peek at the ways we are using technology this summer and planning for Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C in the fall.
I do want to close by showing my appreciation for the countless people on our staff and in our community for their patience, understanding, support, and encouragement as we navigate through these unchartered waters. The people have been and always will be the most valuable resource and I am #PampaProud to work and live in such a caring school and community.
Dr. Tanya Larkin, Superintendent
Published on 05/14/2020