Many of the 320,000 students in the Clark County School District rely on their schools for more than learning.
Nearly two-thirds of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced meals in the school cafeteria. And nonprofit groups typically deliver their services on campus.
Since schools closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus, the script has been flipped, with organizations now reaching out to young clients disbursed throughout Southern Nevada.
Tami Hance-Lehr, chief executive officer of Communities In Schools of Nevada, told State of Nevada that her organization is trying to make sure children don’t fall through the cracks.
“We are working with a sense of urgency to make sure that we can connect them to the services that they need,” she said.
Communities in Schools puts a site coordinator into every school it serves. Hance-Lehr said those coordinators are now calling, texting, emailing, or contacting in any way possible those students to make sure they're getting food, computers, internet access - anything they need to make it through the shutdown.
“We are literally doing whatever it takes to make sure they have what they need during this time,” she said.
One of those coordinators is Whitney Cole. She is usually at Bailey Middle School. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that while she might not be at her school, she is out in the community for her students.
She is helping to hand out food and CCSD learning packets at sites set up by the school district. Cole said the biggest needs are basic necessities.
“With the laptops and the access to just getting online, for our students especially, that has been a really big challenge for them," she said, "But also, the food that they’re going to eat at night or what they’re going to eat the next morning. The hygiene supplies. Those kits that they really need. Those are essential items that our families aren’t necessarily able to get out and get at the moment. Those are some of the challenges that I hear in the community right now.”
Cole said CIS is providing its coordinators with appropriate personal protective equipment when they're working with the community.
Serving Our Kids, a child hunger nonprofit that typically works through schools, has seen demand for services skyrocket, but so has community support, said Patricia Farley, the group’s chairwoman.
"Right now, our teachers, our principals and our counselors are the ones contacting us about their most vulnerable students to make sure they’re getting their weekend food bag," Farley said, "We have also branched out to delivery. So right now, we’re delivering about 500 weekend-food bags, either through Spread the Word or Teachers Health Trust.”
Farley said Serving Our Kids determines the needs of the students it serves mid-way through the week, then goes out into the community to businesses and other community members to collect food and funding, and that food is then distributed.
She said despite the increased need they saw even before the coronavirus outbreak the community has stepped forward to fill that need.
However, both Farley and Hance-Lehr are concerned about what will happen if the resources dry up.
Communities in Schools is funded by Title One, a federal program for low-income schools. Hance-Lehr said more lawmakers need to understand how families function because of the resources they access at school.
She said having someone like Whitney Cole at every school would allow teachers and principals to focus on education not on why a student is hungry or missing a lot of school or wearing shoes that are too small.
“Our elected officials at the state and federal levels need to pay attention to this group of our Nevada families,” she said.
Farley said many students access nutritious meals, family support and a lot more through their school.
Tami Hance-Lehr, chief executive officer, Communities In Schools of Nevada; Whitney Cole, site coordinator, Communities In Schools; Patricia Farley, board chairwoman, Serving Our Kids.
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