Editor's Plate: Your Local Schools Need Your Help

Sept. 8, 2020
Making sure home-educated students received adequate instruction requires the necessary technology.

I should have written this a month or more ago. School bells already are ringing across the country – virtual bells, I guess, since even before the pandemic probably no school still had a bell. But there's still time to do good in your local community and chip away at an issue that comes up in all our surveys and research: the need for good employees.

Throughout this summer's part of the pandemic, there have been many laudable efforts by food and beverage companies to assist their communities with food and funds. As this pandemic drags on, it's time to turn your attention, and social responsibility efforts, to the school.

While there are differences from one school district to another, it looks like there will be a lot of remote learning, or at least a hybrid approach, for at least the start of this school year.

There are a couple of schoolteachers in my neighborhood, and they've unanimously said their students did not learn as well or as much in the spring semester of remote learning. While strategies and approaches have been fine-tuned a little, I don’t think anyone expects the fall remote learning experience to be as good as in-person learning.

Teachers lament how much more preparation and effort they have to put into creating online, visual components for their students, instead of just standing in front of the classroom and teaching (I know there's a lot more to it than that). And they acknowledge that some kids have fallen off the grid, making little or no contact with their schools in those final months of the 2019-2020 school year. There's little reason to expect this will change in the new, remote-learning school year.

Sometimes it's commitment; sometimes it's equipment. Remote learning is going to be a challenge, even for families that can afford computers and internet connections for their children. The availability of that technology seems to go down in rural areas, which is where many food and beverage plants are located.

It's not a perfect comparison, but the disruption to New Orleans students after Hurricane Katrina (2005) comes close. Most of the city's schools never opened that fall. Many families moved at least temporarily to new cities, some to bordering states. Those that did return to school after only one year away had lost two years of proficiency. How's that for new math?

It's going to take extra effort on everybody's part. And that should include employers in the community, such as food and beverage companies, who probably will be hiring these kids in a few years.

It will take not only effort but technology tools and even bodies to help out. So look into how you can assist schools in your area. Funds are an obvious and easy choice. Discarded and new computers can be a big help. Use your clout to get free wifi for your town. Get your employees to sign up for tutoring or mentoring programs – perhaps you can provide some attractive incentives.

Even small efforts can help. This next one is a relatively modest donation but big for a small community, and it shows how a little employee concern for their town can snowball into having an impact.

An employee at Wayne Farms' poultry processing plant in Dobson, N.C., led what became a $10,000-plus fundraising effort to help local schools with remote learning and digital home education.

As a nurse and occupational health specialist with the Dobson facility, Candace Murphy saw the effects of the COVID pandemic on both her plant and the community. As social distancing policies were implemented and parental concerns grew, local officials tasked with making sure home-educated students received adequate instruction realized many families didn’t have access to the necessary technology.

Wayne Farms is the area’s largest employer and a longtime community partner supporting local causes and programs. So when Murphy approached Dobson plant management with the idea of a fundraiser to provide computer technology to facilitate remote learning, the idea took wings and employees across the local plant got on board.

The result was $10,000 in cash from and a pickup truck-load of writing materials, earbuds and tech accessories – probably more than $2,000 worth -- that will be needed by Surry County students requiring virtual learning as COVID-19 continues to run its course.

Murphy recently joined with Wayne Farms representatives and local officials to present the cash and equipment donations. “We’re so glad to be able to help our local schools—we live and work here too, so making sure our students are equipped and ready to learn is a priority for everyone,” said Murphy.

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