Shawn Yatsky Forest Hills initiative

Forest Hills ninth-grader Shawn Yatsky works on his biochemistry homework Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020 at Adams Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 in St. Michael.

ST. MICHAEL – Seeing the strain the COVID-19 pandemic put on the community, Forest Hills School District officials and staff put their heads together to develop a response.

The result was the “Reaching R Rangers” initiative, which features a program to support students during the remote learning period.

“This is us, this is Forest Hills,” assistant elementary Principal Robert Dill said. “This is who we are.”

District officials secured six remote learning spots in the community to provide students access to reliable internet and Forest Hills staff members.

That included locations including the South Fork and Beaverdale libraries, Adams Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 2, and St. Michael, Dunlo and Summerhill fire halls.

Lucas Jacobs, director of education, said each center had teachers, paraprofessionals and others available to help students.

“We want everyone to know that we’re doing whatever we can to support the students in a remote setting,” he added.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, students scheduled times to stop at the areas closest to them for assistance.

Paul Kudrod, fire chief at Adams Township No. 2, said his department and school have had a long history of cooperation.

He called the program a “win-win” for both organizations.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

Students were set up in the social hall of the fire department and the district brought plastic dividers to keep everyone separated.

The locations were available Dec. 17 through Dec. 22, but administrators are considering keeping the centers open after the holidays, dependent on the COVID-19 situation. 

Feeding minds, bodies 

Additionally, the libraries are connecting Forest Hills students with – for homework and learning help – through the end of the school year.

“That was a great perk that the libraries provided us with,” Superintendent David Lehman said. 

Forest Hills will also be handing out seven days’ worth of meals on Dec. 30 at several locations throughout the district’s boundary.

To help local restaurants hurt by the pandemic, administrators and staff members raised funds to purchase daily lunches from area eateries from Dec. 15 through Wednesday.

Tammy Ohler, president of the Forest Hills Education Association, worked with the restaurants to come up with a schedule, and helped to organize the fundraising. Roughly 100 staff members contributed $50 per person for this part of the approach and raised $5,450.

Dill, who was also involved, said it was the highlight of the staff members’ days when the lunches arrived.

“Our goal is to reach everyone in our boundary,” Ohler added.

The group partnered with restaurants such as Morris’ Tavern, The Country Inn and The Homestead, and is considering extending the service after winter break. 

Supporting food banks

Another aspect of the plan was a food drive that ran Dec. 11 through Dec. 16 and raised nearly $6,300 along with numerous food donations for the South Fork and Bethel United Methodist Church food pantries.

Donna Carosi, school psychologist, was in touch with the local distributors and heard first-hand that supply was down and demand was up.

Staff were encouraged to bring in donations and could donate $20 to get eight dress-down days.

School officials said a number of businesses and individuals donated additional money to the cause while collection boxes were set up throughout the area.

When it was all said and done, two vans packed with nonperishable items delivered to the food pantries and the amount raised was split between the two.

Patsy Senft, director of the pantry at Bethel United Methodist Church, said the organization was thankful for the “important” donations.

There was more money provided than any previous drive, which will help the pantry offer gift cards to those in need.

“We’re proud of the effort,” Lehman said. 

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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