Detroit charter gets creative to provide meal access to virtual learners

Vaughn Springer
Sep 23, 2020 11:23:46 PM

For months, educators across the state have worked tirelessly to develop plan after plan to rethink instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the technology, to the sanitization, to the temperature checks and more, school simply doesn't look the same these days. But as with any typical school year, some of the most important decisions educators are making to ensure students succeed don't have anything to do with Chromebooks, or desk dividers, or Zoom - and everything to do with finding new, creative ways to meet basic needs. 

Like other districts, educators at Barack Obama Leadership Academy (BOLA) underwent months of planning in preparation for the school year. Each morning upon arrival, students' pause to take temperatures and sanitize tiny hands, and they're given a new mask to wear. With about two-thirds of BOLA’s 270 students attending school in-person, educators are able to keep classrooms under 12 students to support social distancing - they've even developed creative "overflow rooms" where teachers can project their live instruction into an adjacent room with additional students if a class exceeds 12 kids.

These changes and precautions have been a huge challenge - but for the BOLA team, there's one other major concern they have worked to creatively address: meal service.

100% of BOLA's students qualify as free or reduced-lunch eligible. In a typical year, most of these students get breakfast and lunch at school daily, and depend on being at the school for these meals. This year, with so many kids learning virtually, access to meals is a critical concern, and school administrators had to get creative with a solution. 

BOLA has five busses that operate daily to pick up students and bring them to school in a typical school year. With the help of additional COVID-19 funding and a partnership with Variety Food Services, they’re putting the busses to good use. 

Every Monday, after dropping in-person learners off at school, three of the busses are packed with meals that are then delivered door-to-door for virtual learners. The partnership with Variety has given these students access to 10 quality meals a week - five grab and go breakfasts, and five hot lunches that can be heated in the microwave. Each school day, all the virtual students are given a break at the same time as in-person learners to each lunch with their peers in the classroom via Zoom. Pictured below are three members of the dedicated food service crew at BOLA who help prepare those meals for students every week. 


Our parent population is very appreciative that we’re providing quality meals for them. They’re happy and grateful to be relieved of the responsibility of having to go get food or having it delivered or buying it.

- Kimberly Prichett, BOLA Principal

As we continue to push the boundaries of innovation to adapt to these changing times, we must also keep surveying the evolving needs in our communities - and work to develop creative solutions to support those needs. Programs like the one in place at Barack Obama Leadership Academy are pioneering what providing resources, like meals, might just look like in the future. 

Student sit on the floor in a classroom

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