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Education

‘Superheroes’ keep hungry Virginia students fed during pandemic

Many Virginia public school students are returning to the classroom after a year away, but their access to school meals never stopped. No Kid Hungry Virginia recently hosted a discussion with three administrators to highlight how their districts made school meals available despite the pandemic. 

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By Noah Fleischman

Many Virginia public school students are returning to the classroom after a year away, but their access to school meals never stopped.

No Kid Hungry Virginia recently hosted a discussion with three administrators to highlight how their districts made school meals available despite the pandemic. No Kid Hungry is an organization that works to make sure children have access to proper nutrition.

“When schools closed last March … we knew right away that we still had to feed our students,” said Chip Jones, superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools. “That was the priority.”

Cumberland schools gave children a week’s worth of food at a time to take home. The pandemic made Jones appreciate the resources at Cumberland’s disposal, he said. It also made him think outside the box for getting meals to students.

“We’ve seen how much a school means to a community, and what a school can do for a community,” Jones said.

Jones said school nutrition workers—who prepare and serve school meals—kept students fed.

“School nutrition workers are usually some of the lowest paid professionals in the school community,” Jones said. “Yet, they were willing to take on one of the biggest jobs and be on the front lines.”

Clint Mitchell, principal at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Fairfax County, also praised school nutrition employees.

“Nutrition teams are superheroes,” Mitchell said. “They never complained about coming to work. They found a way to do it.”

Larry Wade, director of school nutrition at Chesapeake Public Schools, said staff only had a weekend to come up with a plan to feed students once schools closed.

The department developed multiple distribution models to get food to families, Wade said. That included “grab and go” service at schools and used school buses to transport multiple days worth of meals to families.

Fairfax County Public Schools also utilized the bus delivery system. Mitchell said some students didn’t have transportation to get to the “grab and go” sites.

A No Kid Hungry study found that 47% of American families live with hunger. The statistics are worse for Black and Latino families, 53% and 56%, respectively.

“Students of color are disproportionately impacted by the hunger crisis,” Mitchell said. “When it comes to equity, we must focus not only on school meals, but on transportation and public health issues as well.”

Fairfax County also added weekend meal pickups for those that couldn’t make it to the weekday grab and go locations, Mitchell said.

“It’s all about access,” Mitchell said. “When we talk about equity, it’s about making sure we provide our students with exactly what they need.”

The first wave of Mount Vernon Woods students returned to the classroom this week. Mitchell said with students in the building, it will help remove the “stigma that resides in standing in line at a grab and go site.”

“We are able to now serve more kids in the building,” Mitchell said. “I’m super proud our food service staff is ready to go in the morning with our meal service and our breakfast service by delivering meals to teachers at their door.”

Chesapeake, Cumberland and Fairfax school districts are among many in the state that provide free meals for students with U.S. Department of Agriculture waivers that were extended until Sept. 30.

The waivers provide a form of “universal meals,” said Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, in a February interview with Capital News Service. Roem is part of a national effort to establish universal school meals, or free school meals for all children, not just those who qualify for reduced breakfast and lunch. The General Assembly passed eight school meal bills since 2019 that Roem introduced. She said she won’t stop introducing these bills until the problem is solved.

“My ultimate goal is for universal free breakfast, free lunch that meets all of the USDA guidelines and standards available to any student who wants it without question, without payment,” Roem said. “Anyone who’s hungry eats.”

The waivers help all 45 schools in the Chesapeake Public Schools system provide breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks through curbside service, Wade said. Chesapeake schools provided more than 38,000 meals to students during winter break, he added.

“The waivers and flexibilities that have been offered, have opened the opportunity to see our program through a different lens and perspective,” Wade said. “By allowing students to receive meals regardless of their economic status, it’s allowed our communities to come together to support a need that’s always been there.”

Mitchell said the waivers are a start, but there are still things to be addressed.

“I think all children in this country should be fed when they walk through our doors, regardless of what school they’re in,” Mitchell said. “It’s a hunger issue, it’s an American issue, it’s an issue that we have to deal with directly, and I thank the USDA for taking the initial steps, but we still have work to do.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

Education

University of Richmond adds new course opportunities for 2022-2023 school year

These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.   

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The University of Richmond has announced curriculum changes that will provide new academic opportunities for students and faculty in the 2022–23 academic year. These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.

Africana Studies

The Africana Studies program will launch this fall with a variety of courses and programming in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. The program explores the complex socio-political landscapes, economic structures, and cultural traditions that shape, impact, and stem from the African diaspora.

“The push for this program was strong, and students will now be able to major, minor, and receive degrees in Africana Studies,” said Ernest McGowen, Africana Studies program coordinator. “It is a great opportunity to direct one’s studies towards their interests and fulfill our liberal arts mission.”

Africana Studies courses during the fall semester include “Introduction to Africana Studies” and a “Rumors of War” seminar, which will examine the history of slavery and colonization before and after 1492 and how they shape the African diaspora. The program is housed in the School of Arts & Sciences, but students may take elective courses across disciplines in A&S, the Robins School of Business, and the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

Mathematics, Computer Science, Data Science, and Statistics

This summer, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science became two separate departments — Department of Computer Science and Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The change is a result of growing interest in the fields of statistics, mathematical economics, and computer science. Students can now minor in data science and statistics, which focuses on collecting, understanding, and presenting data from a variety of different domains and contexts.

“Within this minor, students explore everything from data-oriented programming to the ability to identify and address the ethical and privacy concerns regarding data analysis,” said statistics professor Taylor Arnold, data science program coordinator.

Geography, Environment, and Sustainability

Starting this academic year, the Department of Geography and the Environment will become the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. Sustainability will also be offered as a minor, allowing students to explore sustainability through the lens of acting for positive change.

“We have seen a surge of deep interest over the past few years with students interested in topics related to sustainability and the climate crisis,” said Todd Lookingbill, department chair. “So many of our students want to work toward improving conditions that foster the well-being of people and the environment, and this new minor will allow more of our students to explore this critical area.”

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Education

Henrico families can get a jump on the upcoming school year at the 2022 Back-to-School Kickoff

This year’s event will be at Glen Allen High School from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. Families can enjoy music, food trucks, and games, register for school, talk with HCPS leaders, and more.

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While school starts on Monday, August 29th, a week earlier than previous years, HCPS families can get a jump start on the new school year Friday, August 19th at the annual HCPS Back-to-School Kickoff. This year’s event will be at Glen Allen High School from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. Families can enjoy music, food trucks, and games, register for school, talk with HCPS leaders, and more.

Shuttle services from Henrico, Highland Springs, and Varina high schools will run every 15 minutes starting at 3:45 p.m. Parents are encouraged to reserve a seat here.

Glen Allen High School is located at 10700 Staples Mill Road in Glen Allen.

For more information, please contact the Office of Family and Community Engagement at 804-226-5340.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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Business

MEDARVA Foundation opens interactive medical science learning space at Short Pump Town Center

The center, open through the end of August, will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

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The MEDARVA Foundation has opened Surgeon Immersion, an experiential center at Short Pump Town Center, during the month of August. Admission-free, the center will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

“We are excited to celebrate MEDARVA Healthcare’s 70th anniversary by bringing our mission directly to the community,” said Joanne Whiley, chair of MEDARVA Healthcare’s Board of Directors. “We were well known as the Richmond Eye and Ear Hospital for our first fifty years. This is a great opportunity to educate the community on the ways we have evolved since and how we provide service today.”

MEDARVA Healthcare is the last Richmond-based, independent, non-profit health system, operating MEDARVA Surgery Centers at Stony Point and West Creek, MEDARVA Imaging Center, MEDARVA Low Vision Center, and the MEDARVA Foundation.

“The MEDARVA Foundation has been quietly funding medical research at VCU Medical School and UVA Medical School, among others, as well as supporting other local nonprofits that provide direct care to the medically underserved,” explained Cheryl Jarvis, chair of the MEDARVA Foundation Board of Directors.  “But during the pandemic, we started to see the need to support younger scientific researchers as they first start out in middle and high school.  The level of work these students are performing is amazing, and when we started to think about how we could highlight them and inspire others, we developed the idea of a community space that would engage and educate.”

MEDARVA Foundation’s Surgeon Immersion will be open every day in August from Short Pump Town Center’s opening until 7:00 pm (6:00 pm on Sundays) and includes a state-of-the-art digital cadaver table, and simulated surgery kiosks, 2022 Science Fair winning projects, children vision screenings, and more.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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