A boy receives a bag of supplies at his home during the coronavirus outbreak.

A Save the Children response worker distributing supplies to children impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Photo Credit: SCUS

One Community's Recipe for Success Amid Covid-19 School Closures

Early Learning Specialists Foster West Virginia’s Kids’ Growth, Development During COVID-19 Pandemic

As schools remain closed for the summer, Save the Children is still responding to the coronavirus pandemic in some of America’s most vulnerable rural communities. These efforts make sure children and families have access to nutritious food  to keep them healthy by supplying resources and support. Learn more about one community in West Virginia that created a plan to provide kids with health snacks and meals while also encouraging them to spend time together as a family in the kitchen.

Before the coronavirus outbreak closed down schools in West Virginia this spring, early learning specialist Debra Smith had been planning to share healthy recipes with local families in her community, to encourage them to cook together. When young children help prepare a meal with their parents, they can develop their early literacy and math skills by hearing new words, engaging in back-and-forth conversations, and measuring and sorting. They can also learn more about the world around them, by smelling, touching and tasting the different ingredients they’re cooking with.

Debra held on to those recipes when she began working with her Save the Children colleagues and local school staff to prepare and distribute meals to more than 1,200 kids each week, as schools in her central West Virginia town remained closed. And earlier this summer, when the fresh fruits, vegetables and other ingredients they were planning to distribute to families matched those healthy recipes, she decided to dust them off.

“I already had it put together – I had a snack, a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner,” said Debra, one of Save the Children’s local ambassadors for Vroom – an innovative initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation that turns daily, shared moments between parents and children into early learning ones.

The recipes included healthy meals like peanut butter and banana oatmeal, lunch box pita pockets, vegetable soup, and the classic snack, Ants on a Log – which includes celery filled with peanut butter, sprinkled with raisins.

Those recipes – and the encouragement Debra and her Save the Children colleagues Michele Hipp, Robin Hudson and Suzanne Allen provided local families – became the heart of the early learning foursome’s Healthy Eating Week. As parents came to pick up meals at the local middle school that week, they also had the opportunity to stop by Save the Children’s early learning booth, where they could get Vroom tip cards to help maximize brain-building moments when they cook with their children, along with some toothbrushes to help clean young teeth after they try the healthy meals they create.

Healthy Eating Week is one of four weekly themes the Save the Children colleagues have organized for the community’s young families since food distributions were consolidated at one school – themes that have offered different activities and resources geared toward engaging children in learning as they continue to shelter at home. They’ve included Health and Safety Week – where families received first aid kits and important guidance on water safety – and Routines Week, which emphasized the importance of maintaining daily routines for kids, such as meal time, nap time and bath time. The four early learning specialists also encouraged parents to stay active with their children during Get Up and Get Moving Week.

“It’s great to hear parents say, ‘that was a really cool activity you gave us,'” said Michele Hipp, a coordinator for Save the Children’s early learning program, Early Steps to School Success. “That makes it really worthwhile. And whether schools are open or not, we have that same goal – helping their children."

You're not alone. As a national leader in early childhood education, Save the Children will continue to support and supplement learning – whether it takes place in-person, virtually or in a hybrid model, in the nation’s most rural communities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been publishing free learning resources and materials to help parents and caregivers, including weekly activities and tips on how to help children cope with school closures.

With your help, we are also working to make sure kids can learn and get the nutrition they need during this crisis, with more than 300K kids served and 6 Million meals prepared and delivered.

In the months ahead, Save the Children will continue to ensure children receive nutritious meals whether in a school building or at home. Learn more about our response to COVID-19 and work across America to keep children healthy, educated and safe.

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