Jessica Cejnar / Thursday, March 19, 2020 @ 5:49 p.m. / Community, Education, Emergencies, Health

DNUSD, First 5, Child Care Council Keep Youngest Del Norters Learning, Fed During COVID-19 Emergency

Though school is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, bus drivers and district staff delivered meals to parents and students at Lighthouse Community Church and other Del Norte County communities. Photo: Jessica Cejnar

In another world, Paige Swan may have earned detention for hanging out the window of a Del Norte Unified School District bus.

In a world of social distancing, quarantine and school closures due to the novel coronavirus, Swan, principal at Crescent Elk Middle School, owned that he was breaking the rules and urged his students to take a work packet home with them.

“Are you missing school already?” He asked as DNUSD’s Bus 22 rolled up to Lighthouse Community Church on Thursday.

Swan rode with bus driver Reese Trimm and Nutrition Services employee Kathleen Hicks, who took lunches and next-day breakfasts to students in the Bertsch Tract, on Pacific Avenue and at Totem Villa Apartments in Crescent City.

Since the DNUSD Board of Trustee’s decision to shutter schools to curtail the spread of COVID-19 took effect Monday, Trimm and her colleagues ensure students living in the county’s remotest communities are fed. On Monday, Trimm said her bus delivered meals to 162 kids. On Tuesday, 111 youngsters received food from Bus 22. Wednesday, Trimm visited 146 kids.

Noting that Lighthouse Community Church, at 29 kids, was one of her biggest stops, Trimm said 186 students received meals from her bus on Thursday.

Lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrot sticks, dried cranberries and either regular or chocolate milk. Trimm and Hicks also gave kids a breakfast bar and a piece of fruit for the following morning.

“This makes you feel good,” Trimm said after leaving the Bertsch Tract area.

Along with the meal drop offs via school bus, students can visit each school from 11 a.m.-noon to get lunch and next-day breakfast through the closure.

However, on Friday, parents and students will receive two breakfasts and two lunches, according to DNUSD’s Facebook page. Meal service won’t be offered Monday due to a previously-scheduled professional development day. A limited number of meals will be available on a first-come first-served basis from 11 a.m.-noon Monday at the district office, 301 W. Washington Boulevard in Crescent City.

Bus and school-based meal service will resume Tuesday.
DNUSD’s school closures are scheduled from March 16 through spring break.

School is scheduled to resume April 20, though the DNUSD Board of Trustees will revisit its decision to shutter campuses at its March 26 meeting.

Four days into bus-based meal service, DNUSD Transportation Director Derrick Campbell said he is working on getting an app available to parents called Here Comes the Bus. Parents will be able to track the bus as it makes its way along its route, he said.

As his drivers make their way to parents and students, Campbell urges them to stay on their side of the street. Since buses aren’t bringing youngsters to school or delivering them home, they’re not going to use their flashing red lights prompting motorists to stop, Campbell said.

“We don’t want anybody getting hit,” he said.

Swan’s role was to ensure youngsters had the means to keep their minds busy, though the work they were given won’t be graded. On Thursday, he gave out work packets for students in kindergarten through 8th-grade.

Work packets for high school students and preschoolers will likely be available next week, Swan said. He noted that the packets are made up of worksheets and exercises from a variety of online sources. Staff at the district office are also working on more options for online distance learning and will provide training over the next two to three weeks, Swan told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

“We were receiving two to three updates a day when this first started,” Swan said.

Swan, who has been working for DNUSD for 25 years, said it’s the first time his generation has dealt with an emergency on this scale. He said his students were jokingly asking when school was going to be closed due to the virus.

“The kids were like ‘Whoa! I didn’t think it was going to happen,’” he said.

Child care options available
While the district’s Nutrition Services staff and bus drivers are busy ensuring students’ bodies and minds are being fed, officials are gauging the community’s input on the need for child care for medical staff, first responders, essential county and city employees and the homeless.

This is in response to an executive order from California Governor Gavin Newsom, according to a post on DNUSD’s Facebook page. As a result, the district is urging anyone falling into that category to take a survey.

Melodee Mitchell, director of the Del Norte Child Care Council, a local nonprofit ensuring families have access to quality child care, said the district’s survey is separate from how her organization is responding to COVID-19. She said she spoke with DNUSD Superintendent Jeff Harris, letting him know vacant family child care slots are available.

The Child Care Council is also working with the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services to determine if its preschool, Little School of the Redwoods, could be used as a child care site for first responders, Mitchell told the Outpost on Thursday.

“There are several child care options that are happening right now under Community Care Licensing, which are popup child care and co-op child care,” she said.

According to Mitchell, pop up child care enables businesses and other entities to offer care on-site. It would be facilitated by their employees and would only offer care for the children of employees.
Mitchell said the Child Care Council had offered assistance to Pelican Bay State Prison, providing funding from the Child Abuse Prevention Council and the proper paperwork from the California Community Care Licensing Division. This offer is available to other entities, though Mitchell said Pelican Bay officials turned the Child Care Council down.

The other option, co-op child care, would be for parents who knew each other. One parent would watch their children and the other parent’s child while that parent worked, Mitchell said. The working parent would reciprocate, providing care for their friend’s children while that person worked, she said.

“Those types of things are being encouraged during this time since there are so many displaced school district children,” Mitchell said. “Community Care Licensing is encouraging and supporting efforts.”

Resources for 0 to 5-year-olds
Though work packets for preschoolers weren’t available on Thursday, First 5 Del Norte Director Angela Glore said her organization has been giving away resource packets for parents of 0-5-year-olds at the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods.

They have also been available at the local WIC office and at the Department of Health and Human Service’s facility at 880 Northcrest Drive. Those packets will also be available on school buses starting next week, Glore told the Outpost.

Glore said she has also been posting information on First 5 Del Norte’s Facebook page and hopes to start a blog on the organization’s website with help on how parents can talk with their children about the coronavirus and why they “can’t have playdates with friends.”

Though the FRC is closed to the public, Pacific Pantry is staying open and are keeping its regular hours this week and next week, Glore said. However, she noted, everyone’s playing everything by ear.

“This morning in a meeting of Resilient DNATL, we were coming up with creative ways we can get information out there to help entertain kids, help kids keep learning and so we’re just thinking about different ways we can reach families,” Glore said.

This includes signing kids up for First 5’s Ready for K texts, which provide parents with tips on their youngster’s health, development and learning, and for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

There are also a plethora of online options for youngsters and their families to stay busy and active, Glore said. A favorite is a “livestream doodle” hosted by children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems. Willems is encouraging people to take a picture of their doodle and post it to Facebook or to his website, Glore said. Those who like animals can check out the Cincinnati Zoo’s online safari at noon Pacific Time, which features one of their animals.

Glore also had some advice for parents besides making sure their hands and their youngsters’ hands are washed thoroughly.

“Read with your kids every single day. Sing with your kids. Talk with your kids,” she said. “Reassure them you’re still there for them even when the world is so topsy turvy.”


Lunch and Breakfast drop off schedule


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