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School district seeks creative ways to connect with students through technology.

COURTESY PHOTO - Zachary Walker, a first grader at Gladstone's John Wetten Elementary, made signs for his teachers participating in a parade through the city to kick off the school district's distance learning program.Gladstone educators wanted to do something special to celebrate the first day of their new distance-learning program this month.

Gladstone fourth-grader Wesley Hunt made a colorful sign for school staff participating in the car parade that kicked off the district's distance learning program.Honking and cheering, they slowly drove the streets of Gladstone, waving at their students who came out to wave from their driveways. Children were excited to see their teachers for the first time since schools closed a month ago. Some students decorated their driveways with sidewalk chalk or waved brightly colored signs that said, "We miss you!"

"Because we can't be together, it's more important than ever to find ways to connect with our students," said event organizer Emmett Pearson, a drama teacher at the high school. "What a fantastic morning! The energy was electric, and it was amazing to see so much support from our students, families and community."

COURTESY PHOTO - Technology specialist Jo Strong distributes computers to Gladstone students.The past two weeks, the school district has distributed nearly 900 Chromebook computers to students participating in the distance-learning program. Before distribution, each device had to be gathered from classrooms in four buildings, sanitized and tested. Barcodes for each device were matched to each student's checkout paperwork. To maximize social distancing, district staff distributed devices through a drive-thru process; walkup service also was provided for families without cars.

"A wide range of staff participated, from technology specialists and interpreters to principals, secretaries and teachers," said Assistant Superintendent Jeremiah Patterson. "This was a fantastic team effort."

Student spent their first week of distance learning using online tools like Seesaw and Google Classroom to receive lessons from teachers.

"We've been excited to see so many of our students actively participate, including some students who previously struggled to engage in regular classroom learning," said Kraxberger Assistant Principal Charlie Mikulski.

Meanwhile, the Gladstone School District is still providing thousands of free meals weekly to kids 18 and under. Free pickup of five breakfasts and five lunches is provided between 9 a.m. and noon each Wednesday at the Gladstone Center for Children & Families.

On a recent Wednesday, Gladstone exceeded its previous record by distributing 6,880 meals in a single day, a big feat for a district with only 1,960 students. To make drive-thru distribution go quickly, families are asked to have their trunk or hatch popped open, car doors unlocked, and windows down on arrival so staff can speak to them and load food boxes into cars.

COURTESY PHOTO - A staff member loads free meals and milk into a waiting vehicle at the Gladstone Center for Children & Families.Students may pick up food without an adult. Pedestrians may want to bring a wagon or backpack to haul their food because the boxes are heavy, including large cans of food and milk by the gallon.

"We are very grateful to our school cooks, groundskeepers and other staff who are hustling to order and deliver supplies, prepare food, pack boxes and load cars," said Superintendent Bob Stewart. "They were literally running last week to get a record-setting number of meals out the door in a single day."

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