While COVID-19 has presented many new challenges for school districts in 2020, Maryland’s Harford Public School District transportation department is creating a positive result by working to support the local community during the holiday season.
Cathy Bendis, director of transportation for Harford County Public Schools (HCPS), told School Transportation News that the district’s annual tradition is to support a charity organization during the holiday season, such as in 2019 when the district assisted with the community’s Toys for Tots effort.
“I wasn’t sure how it would go this year given the challenges many have faced personally and also not being as connected. However, it was a huge success even more so in years past,” Bendis said.
This year, the Harford County Transportation Department was able to collect donations of toys and food to support the Annual Harford County Sherriff’s Office Holiday Drive.
“We like to work collaboratively with our local law enforcement, especially since they help support us with Red Light Runners, a program to describe drivers who pass a school bus illegally while the red lights of the bus are activated,” explained Danielle M. Bedsaul, the district’s supervisor of transportation.
School bus drivers employed by the district’s contractor as well as district employees including bus drivers, attendants and office staff joined in collecting and donating food and toys for the drive. The district was able to accept donations via a “touchless” process, to adhere to safety guidelines and protocols regarding COVID-19.
Bendis credited Keyonna Barnes, the transportation administrative support specialist, with organizing the process of receiving donations, adding that she did an “outstanding job of spreading the word and gathering the donations even in a virtual environment.”
Bendis continued, “We know the need is much greater given all the challenges this year has brought, and we were happy to be able to support such a great local program for those in need. COVID-19 prevented us from gathering together. However, it did not stop our department from coming together to support the community.”
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Since the closure of many schools in March, HCPS had been utilizing a hybrid learning program, combining virtual and in-person classes. However, on Nov. 13 it transitioned to a virtual-only model amid a local spike in COVID-19 cases. The district’s food sites, a connectivity center within the county, and transportation of special needs students to schools are still open and have been able to continue running with the assistance of many of the school bus drivers and attendants.
Editor’s Note: The original article incorrectly referred to the school district as Hartford Public Schools. STN regrets this error.