A guest post by Cecilia McKenzie, MNA, Resource Development Facilitator; Special Education District of Lake (SEDOL) County (IL)
This week’s blog post was provided by Superintendent Thomas Moline of Special Education District of Lake County (SEDOL) in Illinois. Superintendent Moline is part of AASA Children’s Programs Coordinated School Health School Administrator Training Cadre. The article was originally featured in the district’s quarterly newsletter. It features the district’s backpack program, which provides students and their families with backpacks filled with nutritious food items, healthy eating tips, and easy to follow recipes.
In late 2012, staff became increasingly aware of the growing number of students impacted by chronic hunger. Knowing that hunger can impact both academics and behavior, something had to be done. Staff rallied, engaged the community, found sponsors and held fundraisers. In late 2013, the SEDOL Weekend Backpack Program was born. The first year, the program served 20 students, then 68.
In the 2014-2015 school year, the program provided backpacks filled with nutritious food items, healthy eating tips, and easy-to-follow recipes to more than 100 SEDOL students and their families.
Although successful, the growing program brought challenges to the already busy schedules of staff and social workers. Finding the internal capacity to support the program became increasingly difficult. Vocational Facilitator Jim Ross had now become the dedicated coordinator of a flourishing and vital program. A classroom at Laremont School became the epicenter of food drop off, sorting and distribution. Administration, principals, staff and community partners continued to collaborate to ensure success.
But then the unexpected happened.
While the original intent was to meet the needs of hungry students, the logistical process of finding ways to internally support and sustain the program - without adding increased stressors to teachers and social workers - evolved into a flourishing vocational program. Through their involvement with the SEDOL Weekend Backpack Program, students were having vocationally relevant experiences, while making a difference in the lives of other students and families in the community.
A core group of middle and high school students became key players in the program. The task of delivering the backpacks to SEDOL schools and classrooms became mini-mobility trips, addressing safety issues when walking to and from buildings, proper transporting and lifting techniques, etiquette when entering classrooms, and the practice of time management and teamwork skills.
|Pictured above: (L-R) Lorenz Uy and Tony Blein help pack boxes of food into a car.
“The students do it all,”says Vocational Facilitator and Backpack Program Coordinator Jim Ross, “Everything from going out to the cars when the food is dropped off, identifying and sorting the food, packing the backpacks, delivering the backpacks to classrooms, and then picking up the returned backpacks the following week.”
|Matt O'Brien packs backpacks.
The SEDOL Weekend Backpack Program reminds us to appreciate the process, as well as the final outcome. The program has evolved into a win-win for all those involved. We celebrate its evolution as we welcome our newest partner, the SEDOL Foundation. Together, our students, staff and community partners will forge forward, filling bellies and changing lives.