ICCSD continues to provide free meals, technology and internet services to families

The Iowa City Community School District is providing free meals to children while classes are online. It is also providing technology resources to students.

A+sign+for+the+Iowa+City+Community+School+District+is+seen+outside+the+district%27s+administration+building+on+Tuesday%2C+April+28.+

Jake Maish

A sign for the Iowa City Community School District is seen outside the district’s administration building on Tuesday, April 28.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

 


Iowa City Community School District students are unable to return to school buildings as they start their fall semester in a virtual format. Having a structured environment with access to various resources gives students a sense of stability — something that COVID-19 has otherwise taken away.

To ensure all students are able to successfully learn outside of the classroom, Iowa City schools will provide students with free breakfast and lunch meals available for pick up, district-issued technology devices, district-wide technology help-desk services, and home internet services if needed.

Nutrition Services Director in the district Alison Demory said she believes the school district has an obligation to provide students with more than just educational opportunities.

“We recognize that for some of our students, this is an opportunity to get meals that they may not have that opportunity at home with food insecurity,” Demory said. “It’s what we do. It’s what we wanted to do — we don’t just educate students, we want to nourish their minds as well.”

RELATED: ICCSD denied temporary injunction on school reopening

Demory said Iowa City schools have been providing free meals for all children under the age of 18 since the end of March, when the district was initially forced to close its doors due to health and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19.

Students are provided with breakfast and lunch for the day, and families can pick up these meals between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at any of the seven different designated locations within the district.

Demory said funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows the Iowa City Community School District to provide free meals to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status. The department will also reimburse the district for serving free meals, helping decrease the risk of a financial strain within its budget.

Demory said she feels as though this initiative provided families with a sense of routine and stability, during a time when nearly everyone’s daily schedules had been interrupted.

“Especially in the spring, everything was so crazy and people just felt that everything seemed very out of control,” Demory said. “[For] families, this kind of became their routine. They would drive through, they would see us, we would love to see them, and they welcomed seeing us as well — it kind of became their new normal and felt like a schedule in a world where there wasn’t much consistency.”

Demory said their staff has seen the many rewards of the program through appreciative messages from parents and students.

“Successes [of the program include] the families — their thanks, the smiling faces that we see every day when we hand out these bags. Kids write us adorable thank you notes and color us pictures,” Demory said. “They are overwhelmingly appreciative and thankful for us being there every day with food.”

Iowa City resident and parent Amber Capps has two children in the school district right now, a sixth grader and a fourth grader.

Capps said her family took advantage of the opportunities to pick up meals provided by the district this past spring and summer, and she appreciates the service and the ability to change up her family’s daily routine.

“We did do some free meals last trimester and also here and there in the summer,” Capps said. “I greatly appreciate that that service is being offered, even for those of us who can provide meals for our family … just the monotony of making food, it gives us a little break to go get a school lunch and have that connection still.”

RELATED: Iowa City schools allow anyone under 18 to receive free meals amid COVID-19 cancellation

Iowa City Community School District Director of Technology and Innovation Adam Kurth said the district is also providing different technology and internet resources to families at this time — one of the most important being district-issued devices for all students K-12.

“We’re providing a number of resources, perhaps [the] most obvious of those is providing devices for students,” Kurth said. “Last year, we had a one to one device program that included our secondary students at junior high and high school, and then in the spring, with the [COVID-19] shutdown, we extended that as an opt-in to any other student in the district, pre-k through sixth grade.”

Capps said her children both received district-issued chromebooks, and that beginning the school year virtually has been a challenge for her children, but they have adapted well so far.

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve,” Capps said. “I think with the break being so long since they’ve done anything, and it’s just a very different start to the year, but they’ve done remarkably well with it, too.”

In addition to providing devices, Kurth said the district is also providing families with home internet services. By working with several internet providers, they have been able to give 500 families these internet services, and have provided hotspots for families where they cannot access the internet directly to their home.

In order to fund these resources for students and families, Kurth said the district paused ongoing tech projects at various schools and instead reallocated this funding to support providing devices and internet services. Additionally, Kurth said the district received funding through the federal CARES Act to offset some of the costs with the device purchases and home internet services.

Kurth said the district is also allowing families, students, and staff to access help desk services for any technological issues that may arise.

“The other big [resource] that we’re providing that we didn’t use to is providing help desks services for families,” he said. “It used to be that our technology help desk in the district was really only directly accessible to building staff, and we’ve changed that.”

Kurth said within the first week of school, the district received almost 1,000 tech support requests per day. He said this makes it more difficult for their team to prioritize critical technology issues for students and staff that hinder their learning and teaching experience.

Kurth said district staff were excited to see the high percentage of student attendance in their first week back.

“Early on, I think the biggest success is that we see a lot of classrooms where our attendance rates, even on day one, were in the 90 percent plus range,” Kurth said. “The vast majority of our students, even though we’re fully online, were able to get connected on day one — get into their classes.”

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