Schools may be closed, but those yellow buses are still running throughout the county.
After Gov. Andy Beshear called on Kentucky school districts to close in-person classes this month, staff at Floyd County Schools went to work on a plan to ensure students still receive meals.
And even though school closures were extended through April 17, that meal delivery service will continue.
“These people are awesome,” Floyd County Schools Superintendent Danny Adkins said about bus drivers and staff who are preparing and delivering meals and doing other things to help students. “I mean, I can’t brag on the team that we have here in Floyd County enough.”
Under his leadership, the district has been promoting its programs and student accomplishments online with the hashtag #FCSINSPIRE. In dealing with COVID-19, the district created a new one, #FLOYDSTRONG.
“You know, this health crisis is not going to define our district. What it’s going to do is it’s going to reveal the everyday heroes that we are. We really have just a bunch of heroes, I’m telling you,” Adkins said.
Adkins reported that bus drivers and staff are using buses to deliver around 3,000 meals to students daily, and each delivery contains enough food for both breakfast and lunch, he said, reporting that increases the district’s daily meal delivery service to about 6,000 meals daily.
In addition to those 6,000 meals delivered on Monday, around 600 meal packages were distributed through drive-through lunch pick-ups offered on school campuses, which adds another 1,200 meals to the district’s daily meal tally, Adkins explained.
“The other day, the governor said not feeding our kids will probably do more damage than anything else, so we’re certainly going to feed our kids,” Adkins said.
He said these children will remember what these drivers and the district did for them.
“That’s what the kids are going to remember, because this is a little bit of normalcy when they see that bus pull up because they love to see their bus driver, and maybe it’s their family resource director that gets off there or their favorite lunch lady that gets off there, and they love to see that,” he said. “So, that’s what these kids will remember, is how well they’ve been taken care of through the Floyd County School System and through the people that really, really care about them.”
About 76 percent of students in Floyd County Schools qualify for free and reduced meals, but the district provides free meals to all students as part of a federal-funded program. The daily meals service is offered to Floyd County children between ages 1 and 18, and the meals are delivered every day by buses staffed by three bus drivers, as well as other staff members. Adkins has taken a couple of these rides thus far, including one on Tuesday in southern Floyd County.
He said about 25 buses are taken out on these daily routes.
“And they’re not just taking them to homes. They’re literally taking them to homes,” Adkins said. “I mean, they’ll pull up in the middle of the road and they’ll run up to a house because they know these kids need it. And they know these kids, that’s another good thing about using bus drivers. They know who needs it, who don’t need it, how important it is to get it to them.”
Bus driver Brian Ratliff, who also works as chief of police in Wayland, said he works with three other bus drivers, Gary Gearheart, Mark Gayheart and John Martin as well as bus monitor Janie Blackburn on these runs.
“To see the smiles on some of the kids’ faces, it’s very gratifying,” Ratliff said on Monday. “We delivered, today, 179 packages on our bus. It’s myself, Gary Gearheart, John Martin, Mark Gearheart and Janie Blackburn, and we’re taking care of everything from Garrett to the Knott County line at Wayland, all the hollers, Stone Coal, everything from Garrett up.”
He explained that the route encompasses portions of several bus routes that were operating when schools were in session, and the staff on these buses help coordinate the delivery of food and fill out paperwork that’s required.
“We’ve got a pretty good system worked out,” he said. “Right now, I’m doing the driving. Gary’s doing all the paperwork and helping John actually deliver the meals. Janie and Mark are bagging everything up, packing it. We got some donations from the Zip Zone there at Eastern and Shorty Jo’s Pizza and Wayland Quick Mart. They gave us some little shopping bags. So, we’re able to put everything in a bag for a child, the snack, the milk, the sandwich and everything in one bag and it makes it easier and quicker for us.”
He refers to the children he sees along the route as his kids.
“I haul them every day. They’re my kids,” he said, with a chuckle. He explained that it makes him feel better knowing that the children are safe.
“Some of the places that we go, you can tell that the kids are really appreciative. They really enjoy it,” he said. “We get to see the kids, too. This is actually our runs that we’re covering … So we get to see our kids every day, so that’s the big thing about it … It gives you peace of mind knowing that they do have something.”
He commended district officials for launching the program and other staff for making it possible.
“I commend the board and all the bus drivers for what they’re doing, the cooks, the janitors. If it wasn’t for the cooks, we wouldn’t have the meals to deliver,” Ratliff said. “The board really stepped up as far as getting this taken care of, getting it out there.”
Floyd County Board of Education members also commended bus drivers, cooks and other staff for this effort during a virtual meeting that was held on Monday. Board members praised the program, calling it “awesome” and saying they are proud to see it happening in the district.
Adkins told them he believes that the meal deliveries and other measures the district is taking to help students during the closure will make a “much stronger community within our school system and within Floyd County.”
Adkins said the district is seeking donations of bags that can be used to deliver meals to students, reporting that schools started providing breakfast and lunch in the same bags to cut back on the number of bags needed. He said Floyd County Sheriff John Hunt and a local attorney donated thousands of bags and more are needed.
“Right now, we’re looking at using anywhere between 3,500 and 5,000 bags a day,” Adkins said.
He said the school closures will make the district’s Non-Traditional Instruction program stronger. The district is in its first year of implementation for NTI days, allowing students to earn credit with work they complete at home. That work is done mostly through the internet, with students using programs like Zoom to chat with their teachers and Google platforms to complete class work. Adkins said more NTI packets will be sent out to students on Monday, March 30.
In addition to those instructional efforts, teachers and instructional assistants are also calling students and parents daily to check in with them, Adkins said.
“I’ve asked parents, telling them you may think we’re harassing you, but we’re really just trying to be good neighbors and checking on our students and checking on our families,” he said.
He expects that proms and graduations may be postponed because of social distancing restrictions.
“As of right now, we’re probably not going to be able to adhere to our scheduled dates, but we’re certainly going to do our best to have a prom and graduation,” Adkins said.
He also praised students for the work they are doing.
“I want to tell the students just to realize that we’ll get back to normal just as soon as we can. They’ve been great. They’ve been getting their assignments just like we need them to do. We need them to focus on reading every day and some math every other day, that’s what we’re looking at sending out in the next two weeks. They’ve been great adhering to what we’ve asked them to do,” he said. “Just stay positive and just continue to work and we’ll see them on these buses when we get around to deliver meals.”
The district and schools send out regular updates on their Facebook pages. To request food, parents should call the following schools between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.: Adams Middle at (606) 886-2671; Allen Elementary at, (606) 874-2165; Betsy Layne Elementary at, (606) 263-6272; Betsy Layne High School at, (606) 263-6280; Duff-Allen Central at, (606) 358-9420; Floyd Central High at, (606) 358-9200; May Valley at, (606) 285-0883; Renaissance Learning at, (606) 285-3634; Prestonsburg Elementary at, (606) 886-3891; Prestonsburg High at, (606) 886-2252; Stumbo Elementary at, (606) 263-3634 or South Floyd at, (606) 263-6175.