With districts rapidly figuring out different ways to continue educating and feeding students remotely amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, a free webinar provided creative solutions being employed by Hickman Mills School District in Kansas City, Missouri.
Meal Delivery by Yellow Bus and Alternative Transportation
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the closure of nearly 95 percent of the nation’s schools and counting, according to Education Week. Not only are students missing out on classroom instruction, but many are also deprived of the hot meals they are usually served at school. The pandemic has necessitated a change in the mission of student transporters.
ALC Schools, an alternative student transportation company operating in 20 states nationwide, has proven to be a valuable partner to Hickman Mills C-1 School District, located southeast of Kansas City. ALC Schools provides supplemental, non-yellow bus transportation for students who are part of a district’s special education or McKinney-Vento programs. Now, ALC is stepping up to help the district in other ways.
“We went from getting students to school to getting school to students,” commented Megan Carey, the company’s chief visionary officer during the webinar presented by School Transportation News on Thursday.
ALC’s Chief Operating Officer Gregg Prettyman explained during the presentation that the district’s newly formed meal delivery system is basically a reversal of the company’s usual format of routing drivers to pick up students at their homes and deliver them to school. It requires a timing schedule and coordinated routing.
Teresa Tanner, the director of student services for the Hickman Mills district, shared that all district students benefit from the free breakfast and lunch program. The new meal delivery program incorporates familiar routines by running school buses on their normal routes and dropping meals at the students’ regular bus stops. Routes are published on the district website, and parents are alerted through emails and phone calls. Volunteers ride the buses to help pass out meals.
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Dr. Carl Skinner, the district’s deputy superintendent of student services, shared that contractor Apple Bus Co. performs the normal school bus routes, and it has assisted with rerouting and creating the multiple tiers needed for the school buses to complete their assigned routes for meal delivery.
About half of the normal number of buses are running, and Apple Bus drivers are stepping up to serve, Skinner added. Some drivers live in the community and volunteer instead.
Most students are able to get to the bus stop for meal pick up. But ALC Schools, which already provides the district with alternative transportation options, was called to help provide meal service to students who live outside of district boundaries or go to other schools to attend specialized programs.
“We’ve had great success with ALC delivering meals,” Tanner stated.
The fledgling program has faced challenges. The school bus delivery rate is low, which Dr. Skinner explained is partly due to social distancing and possible family pride, as some people don’t want to be perceived as needy. However, ALC said its delivery rate is nearly 100 percent, due to the personal touch that is native to its style of operation.
With the lower success rate of bus stop food delivery, a partner like ALC could provide a more effective way to make sure those deliveries are completed, suggested Prettyman.
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Cooperating to Overcome Operational Challenges Brought About by COVID-19
Many facets of Hickman Mills School District’s operations have been affected by the coronavirus and the resulting shifts in attitudes and policies.
As with many other companies, school administration is using video conferencing system to hold their meetings. High school seniors are worried about missing prom. The district is providing as many students as possible with electronic devices for distance learning, but Wi-Fi remains an ongoing challenge.
“This is something that is new and challenging,” Dr. Skinner confirmed. “Now we’re taking this as an opportunity to ramp up how we’re doing things with technology. We’re going to come back as a much stronger school district.”
For students without internet access, homework packets are made available.
In all of the preparation and delivery, he added, sanitization and social distancing requirements are being adhered to as much as possible. Apple Bus also sanitizes buses on a daily basis. Masks and gloves are being used regularly.
He added that all full-time school staff are being paid, with cafeteria and janitorial workers still coming in to work.
Districts in one area must also make sure they are on the same page and cooperating with one another. As Hickman Mills School District belongs to a cooperative, Dr. Skinner said he has observed many Kansas districts are in the same boat.
“There’s a lot of fear. The best way to alleviate that fear is to make sure we meet those challenges that parents have and let them know that we acknowledge them and we’re addressing them,” he said.
He added that transportation is a great tool to support parents and families during this time, advising transportation directors to take a look at district needs and determine how their department can help fulfill those needs.
As far as road safety goes, Tanner shared that school bus drivers are directed to use the same safety precautions as they would if they were picking up or dropping off students for school.
Some listeners brought up the fact that school bus red lights are not to be used unless dropping off students. However, Tony Corpin, School Transportation News publisher and webinar facilitator, noted that unusual times call for unusual measures in the interest of student service.
School transportation has consistently proven flexible and departments have stepped up in times of crisis like natural disasters. The bond of trust that drivers have with families only strengthens when they see yellow buses providing a sense of normalcy in the midst of a crisis, like a hurricane’s aftermath.
“With so many changes you definitely have to be flexible in supporting families,” agreed Dr. Skinner.
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He explained that sometimes federal, state and city guidance don’t align, but communication and collaboration affect success. And if school closures are extended, at least now administrators have a plan.
Carey spoke to the innovative way districts and transportation departments come together to maintain educational or meal services, even after incidents like a recent earthquake in Alaska.
“We’ve got to continue to work together,” she said.
Tanner stressed the importance of putting students first and bringing vendors on board who share the same vision for a successful partnership, such as the one Hickman Mills shares with ALC Schools.
“We’re grateful for the partnership we have with Hickman Mills and districts like them around the country,” agreed Prettyman.
Editor’s Note: ALC is currently offering its proprietary routing system, which specializes in home delivery, for free to help districts better serve students. More information is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 877-225-7750.