Sherman ISD went above and beyond to serve its students and staff after COVID-19 closed in-person education.
This article and accompanying photos were submitted to us directly from the Sherman ISD Communications Department.
When Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order to close school for the year, Sherman ISD's district leadership team went into overdrive. The district developed a distance learning program and implemented curbside meals-to-go so that learning would continue and students would be fed.
"Our food service staff wanted to provide meals for our students and make it as convenient as possible for our families to receive healthy meals even though our schools were closed," Sherman ISD Food Service Director Mandy Stephens said. “We refer to my staff as food service superheroes because they were a bright spot within our district during this time and it was all done for our students.”
During the first week of school closure, families were able to pick up curbside meals at one of the district's seven campus food sites. Families could also stop by one of four community food site locations to pick up food or make a special request for the home delivery of meals. The food service program served 207,570 meals, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, to 70,097 children through 47 days of service.
"Our goal was to ensure our students were taken care of during times of unscheduled school closure. We made every effort to provide our students with nutritional meals, and it was a huge success," Stephens said.
Not only was the food service program a success, but it provided an opportunity for the district's community partners to come alongside and volunteer as well. Emails were sent to community members and posts from the district's social media account were seen throughout the community. They resulted in local churches, service organizations, government agencies, business owners, and campus PTAs, donating food, school supplies, and hygiene products for students and families, and lunch for the staff and volunteers.
"One thing about our community is that they support our district. Once they learned about the opportunity to volunteer, they reached out immediately," Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Tyson Bennett said. "They saw a need and fulfilled that need without any hesitation. They’re all community strong, and we’re so appreciative of their support."
With the distribution of student meals underway, SISD continued developing the distance learning plan and assessing all families' needs within the district. Teachers made personal calls to families to gather information about students' access to technology devices and the internet. After the information was collected, plans to launch the SISD Distance Learning website, create printed lessons, distribute technology devices to students, and activate wireless access points at every campus parking lot were put into place.
"Our teachers were amazing throughout this entire process and accepted the challenge of creating a distance learning program that provides learning opportunities that meet our students' academic needs," SISD Director of Communications Kimberly Simpson said. "While creating the program, we had to be strategic and intentional about providing multiple ways for students to access information from home."
In just four days following the announcement of the first extended closure, the SISD Distance Learning Program was launched. The program contained printed lesson packets, virtual learning lessons, and video conference classroom sessions which evolved daily as teachers, parents, and students continued to provide feedback.
As the program usage increased, SISD learned of the widespread need for internet access. The decision was made to deploy WI-FI-equipped school buses throughout the city to allow students, who may not have internet access, to connect from home.
"Our job was to make distance learning as easy and equitable as possible so that all students could have a positive distance learning experience," Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Whitenack explained. "The information our teachers gathered allowed us to be innovative, plan accordingly, adjust, and expand where needed. The deployment of our WI-FI-equipped school buses throughout our community was our way of ensuring our students had what they needed to stay connected and be thoroughly engaged in our distance learning process."
SISD WI-FI-equipped buses were strategically placed throughout the city in areas with the greatest need for internet access. More than 1,200 students were given devices for home use, including access to the filtered Internet via personal hotspots, bus WI-FI, and extended connectivity at Sherman ISD campuses. Students logged in over 9,500 hours via district devices while visiting the SISD Distance Learning website.
"While reviewing the feedback from our parents, we found that the biggest barriers for our families were the lack of food, devices, or internet connectivity," Whitenack said. "We were able to remove those barriers which resulted in our students having the opportunity to continue learning, engage with their teachers, participate in our virtual school setting, and have a positive distance learning experience in the midst of school closure."
Sherman Independent School District is the largest and fastest-growing school district in Grayson County with more than 7,400 students across 12 campuses. In the City of Sherman, TX, the school district is the heartbeat of the community which proudly believes in the hometown motto, Building Bearcats. With the district’s centralized location approximately 45 minutes north of the DFW Metroplex, Sherman ISD has seen consistent growth throughout the city which encompasses high tech manufacturing corporations, suburban neighborhoods, and thriving retail centers. The district’s belief in family, community, tradition, and excellence allows for nurturing learning environments, proactive leadership, and engaging curriculum and instruction for all students.