Districts' challenge: Keeping students fed and learning 

James Neiss/staff photographer   Hyde Park Elementary Safety Officer Eric Hood, Senior School Monitor Lisa Edwards and Lunch Associate Marlene Santiago served up happy smiles along with a mixed bag with breakfast items and a corn dog with salad for lunch to any Niagara Falls School District student that wanted one.

The indefinite closure of schools across New York poses two significant challenges for local education officials — how to keep needy children fed and how to keep them busy learning while they are home and away from their classrooms. 

After a hectic week of developing programs that allowed needy students to obtain breakfast and lunches, area districts are planning to turn more of their attention to making sure students receive access to the educational resources they will need while the school shutdown continues. 

In the Niagara Falls School District last week, students were able to visit their nearest school where they were offered combination breakfast and lunch packages for pick-up. 

Superintendent Mark Laurrie said the district was able to provide thousands of meals to students last week. Students will also now start to receive learning packets with their take-home meals.

Niagara Falls School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said the packets include three weeks worth of handouts for students to take home and work on.

The packets will be given out by grade level and will include a cover letter from Laurrie as well as links to websites for students to use. The packet will supply students with enough work to last through the Easter break. At this time, Laurrie said he will do another packet if school closing is extended after the Easter Break.

Similar steps were taken by school districts across Niagara County last week. 

After closing schools, the Newfane Central School District announced plans for a food distribution program that allowed families to obtain food. Superintendent Michael Baumann said despite a decrease of comers, the food was getting to where it needed to go.

"I don't know if there was a hiccup, but on Wednesday we had about 500 people here, and on Thursday there was about half of that," he said. "I don't think it was people couldn't get there, because we have runners ready to deliver stuff. There hasn't been an issue."

Baumann said he was impressed by the way in which district employees stepped up to put together a meals program under such trying circumstances. 

"I am really proud of our employees who have really pulled together," Baumann said. "And kids, we miss you and we're looking forward to having you back in the buildings."

In Lewiston-Porter students were offered grab-and-go breakfast and a lunches at the high school last week. Because this is the first time they are doing a program like this, Lew-Port Superintendent Patricia Grupka said there have not been many challenges as of yet. It’s all new, but things are being discovered as they go along. She said district officials will continue to do what they can to support students and families during this difficult time. 

“You go to the grocery store and often times the shelves are bare," she said. "In addition, we recognize that there will be people during this crisis who do not qualify for free and reduced meals but will be losing employment o be partially employed. We want to make sure all the children in the area have at least two nutritious meals during the week.”

Under a directive from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, schools across the state are expected to be closed for at least another week. Some Western New York schools have announced plans to remain closed through at least April 20 or until further notice. 

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