“As soon as I realized school could be interrupted due to COVID-19, I started making plans for digital learning and meal distribution,” Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese said.
Reese explained that three weeks before she had to make the decision to close school on March 12, her team was working on a plan to continue learning through a digital delivery model.
“We are very fortunate in Catoosa County that our citizens funded ESPLOST V so every student has an individual digital device,” she said. “Teachers and students have also been using digital learning platforms at school, so I knew they could transition learning to a home setting if necessary.”
Superintendent Reese has been an educator in Catoosa County for 36 years. She said that she knows students can’t learn if they are hungry. Over 50 percent of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, so the meal distribution and delivery is equally, or even more important, than digital learning while school is closed.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created many serious financial situations for our families,” Reese said. “Many people have lost wages or even their jobs. Students have the opportunity for two hot meals at school. We can’t provide hot meals, but the school system has a responsibility to help families with food for children while school is closed.”
She shared an example of a family where both parents lost their jobs. The high school student is the only person in the family who is able to provide a paycheck at this time.
“Families like this are relying on us to provide food and stability during this very hard time,” Reese added.
The first week school was closed, the system provided meals at all three county high schools (Heritage, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold).
As Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to “slow the spread” of COVID-19 increased, the system moved to one distribution at LFO High School each Monday from 8-10 a.m. The district’s social workers also provide meal delivery for families who don’t have transportation.
“To keep our employees safe and healthy, we have six to eight people who meet at LFO once a week to pack food bags with 10 meals for the week,” Reese explained. “These employees practice social distancing and wear masks and gloves. Families drive up to LFO’s gymnasium, tell us how many students they have in their family and pick up their bag from a table to reduce contact.”
Reese also shared a story from a social worker who delivered meals to a home as part of the meal distribution service. Sue Mason was delivering meals to a home and had her back to the house when she heard a “commotion.”
Mason turned to see four children and two dogs running toward her. They were pointing at her ID badge and yelling, “It’s a teacher! It’s a teacher!” They were so happy to see someone from school.
“I know how important our employees are in the lives of our children and their families,” Reese continued. “I believe the school system is the backbone of the community. I’m going to make sure we do everything we can to support our children, their families and this community during this unprecedented time. I appreciate how parents and community members have worked with us to provide stability for our students through digital learning and meal distribution. We will get through this together!”