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While students and their parents processed news the novel coronavirus would likely close schools for the remainder of the year, Roanoke Rapids Graded School District leaders found ways to meet the academic needs of students as well as those of a social and emotional nature.

“Obviously academics are important, but our first thought was the hundreds of children in our district who rely on daily school meals,” said Superintendent Dain Butler.  

The school district currently has approximately 65 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch.  

Within the first few weeks of schools closing statewide, the system distributed more than 10,000 meals.  Additionally, the district’s community outreach liaisons worked with local nonprofits and churches to find ways to ensure the most vulnerable students had access to three meals a day.  

“As the situation loomed, our teams also looked for ways to help our homeless students, those in temporary housing, and to help all of our students cope with the challenges of being away from their friends and school support systems,” Butler said.  

Community outreach liaisons and school counselors teamed up to provide “an all hands on deck approach to meet the social and emotional needs of the students and their families,” said Jensey Carr, Manning Elementary School community outreach liaison. “We understand that our RRGSD families have faced numerous hardships such as job loss which directly affects being able to provide the basic needs of a family like housing, food, gas in car, personal hygiene items, and much more. 

“Our teachers notified us sometimes daily of hardships so we could address them. It’s just what we do. We know children gain more control of their futures when they succeed in school and many times circumstances beyond their control impede that.” 

The district also provided additional support to students who were caring for younger siblings and managing their school work during the pandemic.  “We want our families to know that RRGSD cares for the well being of all our families and are always here to assist,” Carr said.  

Once the system realized the school building closure would be lengthy, technology teams responded to address the digital divide and challenges of remote learning, especially at the high school level where many students were taking online college courses with limited Wi-fi access.  

“More than 150 of our students have free hotspots they have been using at home thanks to Sprint’s 1Million Project Foundation, which we partnered with in 2018,” said system Chief Technology Officer David Cooke. “This grant offers them free internet so they can complete assignments on their district-issued Chromebooks. I’m thankful our district leaders had the forethought two years ago to implement this program.”  

RRGSD is a one-to-one district, which means all students have Chromebooks.  Those in high school are allowed to take them home to complete assignments.  

For those in pre-kindergarten through eighth, the district created work packets in an effort to keep students engaged and to prevent them from falling behind academically. Packets were available both online and in paper versions.    

“Our teachers have been innovative in their approach to keeping students engaged and learning.  Not only did they call students regularly, but many facilitated video conferences, sent letters, made creative videos, and pulled together as a team to make the best of this situation,” said Julie Thompson, RRGSD executive director of instructional services. 

Butler said the system has worked diligently to support its school community in every way possible. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done.  There was no guidebook for the past few months and how to handle these types of situations. Just as our district’s vision states, our goal is to ensure the academic growth of students as well as their emotional and social growth. We have kept this vision at the forefront of all decisions made during this pandemic.”