Palliser schools make home deliveries

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Huntsville School staff pack wellness hampers for delivery to students and their families

IRON SPRINGS – Their bright, shiny future is rising up from the earth, just steps from the front doors of Huntsville School. The focus of this school community at present, however, is squarely on the day-to-day education of students under the constraints of a pandemic, and not the progress of the much-anticipated replacement building.

The school’s inaugural delivery of wellness hampers provided nourishment for both the body and mind of students, as well as their families. The larger goal at Huntsville School – and others across Palliser Regional Schools which are providing their families with similar support – is to bolster connections at a time when COVID-19 is keeping so many apart.

“In order for learning to work and be optimized, children need to trust their teachers. They need to stay connected with their teachers,” says Tom Hamer, Palliser’s Director of Learning. “That relationship between the school and the community needs to be maintained, fostered and strengthened through this time of exceptional challenge.”

Schools across Palliser receive nutrition program funding. Once the province cancelled in-class learning there was a need to offer the same healthy options to students and their families – many hard hit by a sudden downturn in the economy – at home.

Principal Chris Spanos says it was quickly apparent how appreciative those families were of the connections already established with Huntsville School when staff called home to check on every student during those first few days after school buildings were closed for classes.

The nutrition program had been well-received by Huntsville School families in that all of the students are bused in and may not have time for a healthy breakfast otherwise. Finding a way to continue that daily routine and offer a sense of normalcy in otherwise uncertain times was important, he says.

If food deliveries were to be made, it only made sense to include any school resources students might also need in those hampers. Not only does does that reduce the occasions of physical contact between staff and those families in a time when social distancing is so important, Spanos says it can be a challenge for some of the mothers to pack up several children and drive to the school for a pickup.

School staff prepared 10 hampers for its first run, dropping off the supplies on doorsteps to maintain social distancing. The plan is to provide weekly delivery as long as funds last. Principals will continue to work within their communities to ensure that the families in need continue to receive the care packages.

When Huntsville staff first reached out to parents after in-school classes were cancelled they inquired about access to Internet service and if their children needed to borrow school Chromebooks to aid in distance learning. The kindergarten to Grade 12 school serves a largely Low-German speaking Mennonite population, and their comfort and familiarity with such technology varies, says Spanos.

“We were actually pleased by the percentage, the number of families who were interested right away or thought about it and said they were open to try technology in combination with paper-based materials,” he says.

Along with those devices, there has also been a request from students and families for school library books and novels from their classrooms. In addition to paper-based resources, Spanos says staff are also looking to include more interactive materials for the younger students, such as magnetic letters and packages with math games and dice.