A close-up shot of summer book back in the foreground and house in the background.

During the coronavirus outbreak, Save the Children staff have been responded directly to their communities by provided nutritious meals and education materials to keep kids healthy and learning. Photo credit: SCUS

Taking Steps Together to Support Families During Coronavirus Outbreak

Early Learning Program Supports Arkansas Children and Families' Needs During Coronavirus Outbreak

The coronavirus pandemic is changing how children in the United States learn and prepare for school. Children in rural communities lack access to resources to set them up to be successful learners, which has become an even bigger challenge as a result of Covid-19. Read more about how one community in Arkansas is coming together to make sure kids stay healthy and continue to learn through Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program.

Tonia knew she and her colleagues would face at least a few hurdles as they worked to launch Save the Children’s early learning program, Early Steps to School Success, last year in a small rural town deep in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains. What they hadn’t anticipated was a global pandemic.

“Nothing could have prepared us for the challenges the pandemic would create,” said Tonia, who is an early learning specialist.

The Early Steps program is a rare family resource in her remote northern Arkansas community, where nearly 1 in 3 of its 2,800 residents live below the poverty line and 2 in 3 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

With the town’s schools closing this spring due to coronavirus concerns, the community has “come together to make sure that the children are getting nutritious meals and other items to support them during this pandemic,” said Tonia, who has been helping distribute bagged lunches at the school and delivering meals to families unable to make the trip to collect them.

“The majority of my Early Steps families receive meals during our free distribution at the school, so I am able to check in with them face-to-face,” she said. “It has given me an opportunity to share the program with new families, as well.”

Tonia is also using the meal distribution as a way to provide boys and girls brain-building activities at home through Vroom – an innovative initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation that turns daily shared moments between parents and children into early learning ones. “I have included Vroom activity tips in their lunch bags,” she said.

The early learning specialist is also regularly checking in and supporting the community’s Early Step families via texts, phone calls and sometimes through face to face visits, when possible and given proper social distancing guidelines. “Most of our families have limited access to the internet, so connecting with them has been challenging,” Tonia said. “I have also sent letters and cards in the mail and included various activities and support information. The families have been very grateful.”

Local mom of three, Kassie, whose 3-year-old daughter Scarlett is enrolled in Early Steps, is thankful for the help. “Tonia provided support when I needed it the most,” she said. “My biggest challenge as a parent is making sure that not only my kids’ physical needs are met, but also their emotional needs. Plus, the meals and snacks have really helped my family have food during this time.”

As a single mom of three who has also been balancing homeschooling and work, Tonia understands the daily struggles that her Early Steps families are facing. “The plus side of the pandemic is that I can relate to with my families on a personal level,” she said.

As of November 9, the U.S. has surpassed 10 million cases of coronavirus. Learn more about Save the Children's COVID-19 response here. 

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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