By Dianne Anderson
Laptops available with free internet for local students to take home is not a secret, but it might as well be.
Many parents are still not aware that they can get Chromebooks and free hotspot hookup for their students at San Bernardino City Unified School District just for the asking.
It’s one of several ways the district is helping parents help their students make the grade this coming school year. Parents can also look forward to two new initiatives, one for literacy, and the other for free breakfast and lunch to give kids the energy they need to focus.
Tasha Doizan, SBCUSD director of Elementary Instruction, said the district’s literacy community task force starts this Fall to build momentum around reading, and outreach to the community.
“We offer many ways to get books in the hands of our students through the schools, community partners and our district Chromebook initiative in which many schools have digital libraries,” she said.
Doizan said they want to especially reach students by third grade, a critical time when young minds are at risk of falling behind.
The good news is that students of all ages easily embrace technology, she said. The district’s literacy and Chromebook initiative use the love of apps to help students with the love of reading.
With laptops, they can download fun educational apps, and all the free books they can read online.
“Families in the district can come and get a Chromebook with no charge, and they also get wi-fi access,” Doizan said. “Our families can take advantage of that, and have a Chromebook checked out so students can do their homework.”
Some students still enjoy turning actual pages, and parents are also welcome to start accounts to check out books at their school libraries, which is important for families that lack transportation to get to larger libraries.
Doizan, a past principal at Arrowhead Elementary School and Emmerton Elementary, said she is excited to bring the community together around literacy.
Kindergarten through third grade also represents an important time to get parents involved in reading with their children. “We have a district-wide back to school night in August, but you can never get the word out too much,” she said. “We want parents to know that resources are available to them.”
Also new this school year is free breakfast, lunch, snack and sometimes dinner for all students.
Jason Evylnn, assistant director of SBCUSD Nutrition Services, said 92% of the district’s students qualify under free or reduced status, which means that they exceed the required 62.5 threshold, and all the district’s students now eat for free.
When they first started four years ago, he said 50 school sites qualified, and last year, 67 schools qualified. For 2019, every school at their 84 locations qualifies for breakfast, lunch and free snack.
Initially, they had six previous snack sites that are now converted to 22 supper sites. Students enrolled at select school sites and enrolled in the after school program can get a full dinner meal. Some sites have up to 200 participating students, and he said getting food to students is a major part of learning.
Over the years, he’s attended several seminars showing the link between nutrition and brain activity. He said lack of concentration leads to behavioral issues. “Kids that don’t eat breakfast start getting hungry and they can’t focus,” he said. “There have been cases where some kids were labeled as bad kids. They weren’t bad, they were just hungry kids.”
The district was dealing with a high level of classroom disruption, and decided to step up nutrition services and trainings. At all of their staff trainings, Evlynn highlights the need to get all students sufficiently fed so they can concentrate on their studies instead of their next meal.
“The one kid you think is misbehaving, even if you pull him aside and feed him, you’re going to see a behavior change,” he said
Students can also look forward to a somewhat sophisticated menu under Evylnn, a certified classically trained chef, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu. He takes pride that about 65 percent of their menu is scratch-made.
“We make all of our sauces, chili, spaghetti turkey gravy that we make here are from scratch, he said, adding that to his knowledge, the district has the only kitchen with a central chill facility in the Inland Empire. Their building is 63,000 square feet.
While the kids always love packaged foods, like pizza and chicken nuggets, he said the district’s packaged food is better than anything off the shelf.
“We get the same name brands as the grocery store, but we’re like 400% healthier, when it comes to calorie sodium level and sugar,” he said.
For many of the kids, he said the only real meal they get in a day is from school.
“On nights and weekends, they’re struggling to find food. That’s why we try to feed everyone we can,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The Precinct Reporter News Group.