Although Bert Raney Elementary is physically closed to the public, the school remains incredibly active during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to ongoing distance learning and administrative work vital to the functioning of the district, BRE is also finding other ways to support the community during these hard times.
At the center of these efforts is the childcare center for the children of emergency workers created in the wake of Governor Tim Walz’ executive order back in March closing the state down. BRE Principal Lisa Hansen explained that when students left school for the last time on Monday, March 16, “we were hopeful they were going to be back, but we were not sure.”
To be eligible for the childcare program (officially known as Sting Care), students must be below the age of 12 and must be current students within the YME district. “We’ve been pretty consistent with right around 20 [youth],” Hansen said, later adding that the overall capacity was still higher in the event more youth were admitted. Initially, there were fewer students in the daycare, but as the shelter in place order was extended and families were no longer to make do on their own, Hansen said that enrollment steadily grew.
Although infection rates in Yellow Medicine and the surrounding counties remain low, BRE staff are taking serious precautions to keep both students and staff safe and healthy. Every morning when students are dropped off, they have their temperatures checked by the school nurse and are asked how they are feeling. Water fountains have been closed down and students are drinking from their own plastic water bottles. Staff are also making sure the six foot social distancing rule is observed. Students are also washing their hands frequently and the building itself is subjected to regular cleaning by staff.
Hansen estimates that there are about a dozen paraprofessionals providing direct care at Sting Care, with at least 9 staff members on site at all times. Kids spend their time working on arts and crafts projects, science experiments, and their own academic school work. As the weather increasingly gets nicer, they have also started venturing outside for physical recreation in the sunshine - something Hansen says the kids are particularly enjoying.
The daycare is available to the children of all emergency workers free of charge to the families. The center is open during normal school hours, and uses the gym as the main activity space. Additionally, students are provided with two warm meals each day (breakfast and lunch).
In fact, this isn’t the only nutritional support that BRE is providing to the community. The dining room staff has been busy putting out roughly 750 meals each day for children under the age of 18 across the district. Distribution points are located in Clarkfield, Hanley Falls, Echo, and Granite Falls (which has two seperate locations), and the food is totally free of charge. Some of the paraprofessionals are also assisting with putting these meals together. Meals are distributed each and every day. Hansen said that it was “very impressive” what the dining staff have been able to do.
Understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic also brings with it new financial challenges for many families in the district, BRE staff have also found ways to provide their students with vital household necessities such as shampoo and food. “We have a lot of families that are struggling right now, and [although] some of these items are things we always provide, we’ve really ramped it up,” explained Hansen. By looking over family surveys sent out to assess family needs, Hansen explained how BRE has been able to directly meet the needs of families. “We do our very best. We create a bag and then literally drop it off at their house,” she said, adding that sometimes these deliveries are combined with food drop offs. The deliveries are totally confidential and also free for the families.
Hansen said that she and the BRE staff have been overwhelmed by the community support they have received. She thanked the community and local business who have odnated for their generosity during these difficult times.
For parents/guardians who are interested in learning more about Sting Care, food deliveries, or other available resources, additional information can be found on the school website at https://www.isd2190.org/. Community members can also contact the BRE office for more details about the services being offered during COVID-19.