With the arrival of COVID-19, Wayland-Cohocton Central School joined other schools in closing the district and suspending classes, activities and even public access to school grounds. A March 13 professional development day gave teachers, staff and administrators an opportunity to do some initial planning and ready about two weeks’ worth of review work for students for the imminent arrival of COVID-19 closures. While Steuben County announced that all schools were to close Wednesday, March 18, with most Genesee Valley BOCES districts closing on Monday, March 16 the call was made at WC to close as well.
By Wednesday of that first week, the district had mobilized a meal program providing families with breakfast and lunch. Any family in the district with children (even toddlers and homeschooled children are eligible for the program). The program does not require paperwork or have income qualifications. The district established pick-up locations at St. Joseph’s parking lot in Wayland and at the Cohocton Elementary school. For families who didn’t live in those villages or couldn’t make it to the locations, meals are delivered throughout the district.
A dedicated and masked team of cafeteria workers prepare meals including cereals,
sandwiches, beverages and even fresh fruits. The meals are transported by a fleet of seven district buses. Administrators and bus drivers wearing masks and practicing social distancing have joined the troop of essential workers getting the meals to families. While some go door-to-door, others are at the parking lots for meal pick-ups. Currently an average of 1675 meals are being delivered daily. Recently, the Friday meal delivery also began including breakfast and lunch for Saturday as well.
“I really want to extend my appreciation and awe at the work done by the cafeteria workers who have been preparing and packing meals,” said Eileen Feinman. “They’ve gone so far as to include notes, painted rocks, stickers and pencils in the meal packs to let our students know they are missed. I also can’t say enough about the bus drivers and the administrative team that get those lovingly packed meals out to families on buses and at drop spots.”
Meal delivery lessens the burden on local food sources, assists families in reducing the number of trips to purchase food and helps families who are seeing an unexpected increase in their home’s operating expenses with children home every day.
“We rolled out our closure efforts in phases,” said Feinman during the April 13 Board of Education meeting. “Phase one focused on food security and child care for first responders. We established and promoted email@example.com as a way for families and the community to get their questions answered, and ask for help while Wayland-Cohocton was working from home.”
As part of Phase II the district focused on the social and emotional welfare of students and staff. Staff began reaching out to families to maintain relationships through phone contacts, emails and remote meetings. Students were asked to continue the review of materials provided in their packets and to reach out to district personnel for any help they needed. Faculty and staff have and continue to reach out to families with phone calls. As a continued effort to make sure our families and students who have not answered calls or email or responded to academic work are safe, School Security Officer John Walther has been making home visits.
With the announcement of school closures through May 15 in New York State, phase three has meant looking at the academic requirements and helping students have new educational experiences. Teachers and support staff have been logging in countless hours of technology learning in order to host distance learning for their students. They have purchased and mailed thoughtful projects and activities, as well kind notes home to their students. Chromebooks were equipped, updated and prepped for kindergarten through fifth grade students and distributed last week. This will give elementary students the opportunity to have new learning engagement just like their older counterparts.
The school has utilized survey, Thought Exchange and other tools to reach out to faculty and staff to see what is needed to meet the emotional, educational and physical wellness of the community. Access to wifi because of geography or expense is an issue for a number of families so the district has purchased hotspots and wifi boosters to help those families access the internet better, thereby improving access to educational programs.
“I want to thank the administrative team for working through all of these educational changes and working with their building teachers and staff to secure the necessary learning tools for our students,” said Feinman. “Also for the Information Technology department for getting Chromebooks ready for our kindergarten through fifth grade families, managing the hotspot and wifi booster installation and keeping the new applications and programs going that we are rolling out to manage instruction. The work the WC community members are doing is just incredible.”
In addition to all of the academic work, building level principals are working to keep some fun in the experience as well. There have been spirit weeks in the middle and elementary schools and learning challenges. Teachers have been participating in read-alouds online. Wayland Elementary’s Mrs. Meldrum and Mrs. Kuhn have continued with their morning show online. High school Principal Josie Steiner has embraced technology with recorded messages and a principal’s blog. And of course, the staff and faculty caravan through the district was certainly a high point for most.
At the high school level, currently there is much discussion on how to recognize senior students whose senior year experience and traditional events are greatly altered (To date, only the senior trip to NYC has been cancelled, but future closures would put other events at risk.) Senior recognition will begin to roll out the first week of May.
The next few weeks will continue to grow educational work and a better understanding of how our school year will wrap up. The district is certainly hopeful there will be at least a few weeks together in the classroom but will continue to work cooperatively with families if the Pause NY order continues beyond the May 15 date.
“We are working to address alternatives if necessary to the end of the year activities and to help our seniors celebrate their incredible accomplishment of graduation,” said Feinman. “It is a daily discussion to look at our options to recognize our students and make this a special time for them regardless of the circumstance. Thank you to everyone in the community that has been so supportive. Most recently the Wayland Fire Department donated lawn signs for every Class of 2020 member to display in front of their homes. If you see those signs – honk away as you go by to let them know you are proud of them and thinking about them at this difficult time.
Please remember the email firstname.lastname@example.org is available to family and community members that might have questions about the programs, events or anything we can assist with. Please visit the COVID-19 resources page located on the District’s website or building menus. Please remember that the school grounds are closed, including playgrounds and athletic fields. Families can still enroll in the meal program by emailing email@example.com.