Alexandria, VA

Alexandria City Public Schools handed out 5,000 free meals on Monday — the first day of the system-wide shut down that is forcing nearly 16,000 students to stay home for a month.

Approximately 20 ACPS kitchen staff prepare the meals, which include breakfasts and lunches, in the T.C. cafeteria. Meals include milk, bagels, breakfast bars, fruit and vegetables, sandwiches and nonperishable items. Families are encouraged to take home up to a week’s worth of provisions to reduce trips, regardless of their eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.

Sara Bennett, the assistant director of school nutrition services, said that ACPS plans on providing just as much food every day during the shutdown, and is cautiously optimistic about the weeks ahead.

“We’re hoping to keep getting food delivery for the types of food that we would like to provide,” she said. “Right now, we got a delivery today and we are stocked up for this week, and hopefully next week. We’re gonna keep our eye on it.”

Alexandria City Public Schools announced on Friday that all schools would close until April 14 — after spring break.

T.C. Williams Principal Peter Balas — wearing blue plastic gloves — spent hours assisting with the dispersion of food. In the lead up to the announcement of the month-long COVID-19 ACPS shutdown on Friday, Balas was participating in up to three daily conference calls with Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and other principals.

“It’s been a period of lot of learning as every hour goes on,” Balas said. “And there’s also a lot of answering questions that people have or trying to find out answers to questions if I don’t know the answers, and just being available.”

Balas added, “I think all of it is surreal. Even if you drive down on the road, just seeing how there isn’t traffic at major intersections, it feels a little surreal to me… I would just urge everyone to take all of the necessary precautions seriously so that we can get past this.”

T.C. Williams High School has about 4,000 students and is the largest high school in Virginia.

On Friday, every elementary school student was given instructional packets to take home, and students in grades 3-12 went home with Chromebook laptops.

Hutchings is adapting to the new normal — a closed school system. He’s providing live daily video updates at 3 p.m., and on Monday was also at T.C. helping to distribute food.

“I think the the learning component and the meals are the two most important aspects of us running schools,” Hutchings said.

Hutchings said he is working with the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction on getting a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education to not make up missed school days.

“We are going to be working with Virginia Department of Education, and the State Superintendent around some guidelines on what that looks like for all kids,” Hutchings said. “So I think that now, this is more of a statewide kind of issue that we’re all going to have to just adjust to figure out.”

Melissa Deak, the director of school counseling at T.C., also helped give out food. She leads a team of 21 school counselors who are teleworking from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during the week.

“Kids come into our offices every day, so they need that connection,” Deak said. “So, we’re reaching out to them to let them know that even if we can’t see each other, we can definitely communicate.”

Sindyog Jaturongkasamrint, a dealer at the shuttered MGM National Harbor, picked up food at T.C. with his 11-year-old niece and 10-year-old nephew.

“The food helps because we don’t know how long this shutdown is really going to last,” Jaturongkasamrint said. “The kids love it. He loves to play video games and she loves to watch movies.”

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