Each week I am asked to comment on our recovery from multiple years of pandemic impacts on students. Overall, I continue to see growth and recovery across most populations of students.
In some ways we are growing past our performance prior to the impact of COVID-19. However, that recovery is far from universal and significant needs remain in our school district and across the Yelm community.
There is high demand for support of food, clothing, hygiene products and assistance during the holidays. When students and families lack these basic resources, we see school-related issues such as absenteeism, behavioral problems, academic decline and even mental health needs.
Fortunately, we live in a community that loves to support each other in times of need. So many people and organizations have graciously volunteered resources and time to help families. Here are some of the many amazing stories of giving:
• For Thanksgiving, our district and community partners provided 300 Thanksgiving meals to local families, 200 were families of Yelm Community Schools students. Molina Health Care was our primary sponsor with great help from O Bee Credit Union who provided a donation and an army of volunteers to package the meals for delivery to schools.
• For Christmas we will provide another 200 meals thanks to the gracious support from many Graduate Yelm! partners including Northwest Chevrolet, Puget Sound Energy, O Bee Credit Union and the Lacey Army National Guard Recruiting Office. We have to also recognize that none of our meal programs would happen without the support of Grocery Outlet who allows us to store food for packaging and distribution.
• Also for Christmas, our school teams of outreach specialists, counselors and social workers have worked to identify students in need of holiday support. Multiple community partners have combined to provide “giving trees” for families and gift programs for kids. These partners include the Nisqually Valley Moose Lodge (Santa’s Little Helpers Program), Anytime Fitness, Grocery Outlet, Crossroads Church, InGenius Artisan Gallery, Moms Club of Yelm and State Farm (Eric Zabala). The goal is to make sure we support families to make a special Christmas for students.
We know that even with these wonderful programs and partners, there is more need. In addition to our support services at schools, there are wonderful organizations that can also help. If the need arises during our winter break, we encourage families to connect with Yelm Community Services and Love Abounds Here. Local churches such as First Baptist, Emanuel Lutheran and Yelm Prairie Christian Center all provide dinners and/or food pantries each week.
Service programs like ours and those provided around the community are integral supports for families. We know that when we work together to fill needs, students will connect better with their school and find higher levels of success. It takes a village. Or, in our case, a very giving community.
Brian Wharton is the superintendent of Yelm Community Schools.