Sonoma County schools start at-home learning, drive-thru meals, amid pandemic
Teresa Cortez and Cortnee Ramirez made sure to relay one specific message to every family that drove up to Lawrence Cook Middle School on Monday to pick up food.
“I tell everyone, ‘See you tomorrow,'?” said Cortez, a cook for Santa Rosa City Schools. “They have to know we're going to be here for them.”
Most of Sonoma County's nearly 70,000 public school students began the first day of obligatory at-home instruction Monday with in-person classes suspended at all 40 county districts to help stifle the coronavirus pandemic. After spring break last week for many students, it was time to crack the books again - just not in classrooms. For students, parents and teachers, it's part of the new world order during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
From Cloverdale to Cotati and Guerneville to Sonoma, students countywide woke up without needing to rush to the bus stop or adhere to their usual morning routines in order to get to school. Students were given lessons in myriad digital and paper formats to help maintain education with instruction now confined to a remote setting.
Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Diann Kitamura, who oversees the largest district in the county with 16,000 students at 23 schools, said her staff purchased 3,000 Google Chromebook laptops and 15,000 sharpened pencils to ensure there were no barriers to completing coursework at home.
The next major purchase will be mobile hot spots and Internet service packages to get every student online for web-based teaching, the superintendent said. Teachers will be undergoing professional development this week to master all the different technology needed to hold virtual classes.
As districts navigate any hurdles that emerge with home-based learning this week, one aspect of education was performed seemingly in lockstep around the county Monday. Communities launched grab-and-go meal programs to feed not just the roughly 45% of local students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, but any student 18 and under.
Ed Burke, director of child nutrition services for the Santa Rosa school district, said his kitchens prepared about 2,000 bundled meals to distribute at nine sites around the city on Monday alone.
At the Cook campus in west Santa Rosa, which shares its property with Cesar Chavez Language Academy, cars began arriving in around midday. Here, nearly 75% of the students rely on their school for up to two meals per day.
Cortez and Ramirez had about 200 bagged provisions to give to all the families that stopped by, handing out sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches, carrots, applesauce and juice for lunch, and cereal with yogurt for breakfast Tuesday. Every hand-off ended with a reminder to come back.
Samantha Keefauver, who lives nearby, said it was a huge help having food prepared for her children. Her daughter, Alondra Keefauver, 7, who attends Cesar Chavez, was happy to join her for a short trip outside the house to get it.
“It's one less thing to worry about,” Samantha Keefauver said. “I'm already home schooling - not by choice - three kids. So to not have to worry about cooking lunch and preparing and cleaning (helps).”
For local families, home school is one of numerous burdens imposed during the coronavirus shutdown. Many parents have been furloughed since the county ordered everyone to shelter in place last week. While that has given Alejandra Pereyra of Santa Rosa a chance to help her children complete their schoolwork, it doesn't help pay the bills.
“We're stuck at home and can't work, yet everything we still have to pay,” Pereyra said in Spanish after picking up food at Cook. “For me, it's two weeks at least before I could work again. It's a difficult time.”
Kitamura said the Santa Rosa district is asking for patience and understanding as it manages schooling in an unprecedented crisis, using “a lens of compassion, care and safety for our students, families and staff first.”
In fact, students have been told their grades can't go any lower as long as classes are held outside of a school. They can either improve or stay the same.
“We can really do no wrong during this time. There's no precedent set,” Kitamura said. “But this pandemic is one of the best learning opportunities for our students. There are offshoots of this that are teachable moments.”
You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or email@example.com.