Schools keep students educated, connected

Sydney Coon, first grade teacher with Groton Central School District, sends an uplifting message to students and families while the school is closed due to COVID-19.
Sydney Coon, first grade teacher with Groton Central School District, sends an uplifting message to students and families while the school is closed due to COVID-19.
Photo provided

As mentioned in last week’s column, the administrators, faculty and staff of the Groton Central School District have been going above and beyond the call of duty these past few weeks to ensure that students are fed - physically, educationally and even emotionally.

Given the most recent executive order from the governor’s office, mandating school closure until at least April 15, GCS is poised and ready to continue delivering education, meals, and support to its students and their families.

Parents and caregivers who are now juggling and balancing their own daily lives and schedules to navigate this hopefully temporary “new normal” of having children at home during the day are faced with finding creative ways to conduct some semblance of school at home.

Thankfully, GCS is blessed with school employees at every level who are dedicated and committed to putting some real feet on a phrase we hear a lot, “Children First,” starting with Superintendent Margo Martin, who is doing an amazing job keeping up with mandates and directives that seem to change almost daily.

The district mobilized efforts almost immediately March 13, the last day everyone was still in the buildings, providing Chromebooks for every student to take home. Teachers have moved to online instruction, mainly via Google Classroom, and the district has taken great lengths to accommodate students who have limited access to technology by providing USB drives containing work for students in grades one through 12 and paper packets for UPK and kindergarten students.

“We are going to continue to work to improve our process of online learning to provide the best instruction possible to our students,” Groton Junior/Senior High School Associate Principal Jake Roe said.

Things at the elementary school are moving along equally smoothly at all grade levels. Groton Elementary School Principal Kent Maslin is encouraging his staff to find ways to keep students motivated and to be creative with the ways they maintain relationships with them when they can’t physically be together.

Many of the teachers in both schools have posted pictures and uplifting messages on Facebook and other places to reach out to let their students know how much they are missing them.

Inspired by a children’s art movement in Europe called the Rainbow Project, elementary art teacher Julianne Costa started a voluntary at-home activity for her students where children or families create a picture of a rainbow using any materials they wish and then display their rainbow in the front window of their home along with the words “Let’s All Be Well.”

The idea is that this would bring cheer to those essential workers who are still out and about in their neighborhoods while also giving families a nice project to work on together.

In the area of supplying students with meals, food service director Kelley Neville’s first thought when word of the school closure came was, “how are we going to feed the kids?”

After brainstorming with her staff and Martin, a plan to ensure that they reached all students in the district quickly came together and unfolded.

Just in the first week, utilizing school buses and drivers with teacher aides, staff rode along to deliver breakfast and lunch to students outside the village, and pick-up locations at each school for those within. Over 5,500 meals were delivered.

Neville said her mindset was, “If we could ease the minds of families about food insecurity and still feed the kids five days a week, then that’s what we will do.”

The newest teacher aide in the elementary school, Chuck Hendrickson Jr., began dressing in costume as he helped make food deliveries, donning a different costume each day. He made most of them himself, but as word got out that he was doing that, others began lending him costumes so he could play a different character every day.

The idea caught on for some of the rest of the staff, who also began dressing in costume, Neville included, so that the families who were coming to pick up their own meals could also be part of the fun.

“We feel like the kids just love it and are hoping it makes people smile in a time that’s uncertain and scary,” Neville said.

Some families who felt they would be sustainable without the school meals opted out, so by week two, the deliveries dwindled to about 4,000.

Week three (March 30 through April 3), deliveries will continue as they have been, but week four (April 6 through 10), originally scheduled as a school break, will be quite different.

With heartfelt gratitude to the Park Foundation for the Groton Harvest grant, GCS will still be able to lend a helping hand during the break to its families in need during this stressful and uncertain time.

Utilizing this funding, GCS will offer a full week of meals, including daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners that will feed a family of five, to families who are facing significant financial hardship.

Dinners will include recipes so families can spend time together creating their meals with the idea that “food is the ingredient that brings families together.”
The meals will be distributed one day only, Friday, April 3 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the C. R. Pavilion on Main Street.

Due to constraints with food supplies, they are asking that families with the most need be serviced first. Food will be available via pick-up only and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. At the time of this writing, March 29, GCS has seven days’ worth of meals for 100 families prepared.

Beginning Monday, April 13, food delivery and pick-up will resume in the same manner it had been prior to the spring break.

Given the most recent executive order from the governor’s office regarding education during previously scheduled spring breaks, GCS has developed a plan that balances the need for continuing student learning and providing an opportunity for students to get caught up on assignments.

Teachers will keep the students connected to remote learning through the issuance of enrichment activities related to various skill sets they hope to build within each student. In addition, they will be utilizing this time to support students in completing outstanding assignments. 

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, or 607-227-4922.

In brief:
Sources of free food
The Groton Food Pantry at the Joyce Crouch Benevolence Building, 701 S. Main St., will be open every Wednesday, April through May, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Those who can privately message their email address to coordinator Jessamine Stone on Facebook are encouraged to do so. That way, she can send the list of food for you to choose from ahead of time to minimize waiting when you go to pick it up.

With the temporary closure of the Groton Public Library, Healthy Tuesdays will continue to be held at 6 p.m. every Tuesday with “grab and go” bags of food being distributed at the C. R. Pavilion on Main Street.

Anyone who needs food is eligible to come. Food available is based upon the donations received through the Friendship Donation Network from farms and businesses around Tompkins County.
Girl Scout cookies
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing requirements, the Groton Girl Scout troops have had to cancel all scheduled cookie booths. Right now, five Groton troops have 1,000 boxes of cookies left and are seeking help to get them sold.

Find their post on the Village of Groton Facebook page, comment there with what type of cookies you’d like to order, and you will be paired with a troop that has the cookies you need.

You will receive a link to order and pay for your cookies ($5 a box), and a Girl Scout and her family will deliver the cookies to you while maintaining proper social distancing recommendations.

You can also opt to donate cookies to the organization of your choice. They will deliver to the police department, fire department, school, hospital, food pantry - anywhere you’d like.

The sale of Girl Scout cookies enables our Girl Scouts to continue to enjoy awesome adventures including Groton Community Night, camping, hiking, ice skating, earning badges, arts and crafts and more.

Take-out food sources
Sadly, Bun Appetit Bakery has closed temporarily until owner Jodi Metcalf is safely and economically able to reopen.

Still open for take-out or essential grocery needs in the village of Groton are Dunkin’ Donuts, Family Dollar, Hometown Pizzeria, Kwik-Fill, Main Street Pizzeria, Speedway and Walpole’s.


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