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Meals and mental health: Kansas City area schools connect students with summer resources

Close up photo of a child's arms holding a tray of food that includes a pizza slice, milk a bag of Cheetos, and a salad.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Students at Meadow Lane Elementary School in Lee's Summit line up for lunch during the school year. The school was the site for free summer meals during the month of June.

Summer break can cut off vulnerable kids’ access to food, counseling and other resources they usually get at school. Schools around the metro are working with the community to make sure kids are supported until they return to class.

Students across the Kansas City area won’t head back to class until August, which can make it hard for some families to access the support they need.

Schools provide a safe space, mental health support and up to two meals a day. School districts are partnering with local community organizations to ensure students are taken care of even when they aren’t in class.

“It's really important that we continue providing similar services for those students over the summer, so that they continue to have their bellies full,” said Dr. Jesi Cygan, Lee Summit’s director of student support. “And they continue to feel safe, supported, cared for.”

Here’s a look at the meals, financial aid and resources available over the summer break.

Lee’s Summit School District

School counselors in the Lee’s Summit School District compiled an online list of community resources so families can readily find summertime support.

Anyone 18 years and younger can receive free breakfast and lunch at Meadow Lane Elementary through June 27. Cygan said the district can connect families with community partners to provide food, clothing, utility assistance and housing assistance through the end of the break, as well.

“We want our families to know that even though school is not in session, we still want you to have these resources,” Cygan said. “The need doesn't stop when summer begins.”

That includes mental health support for students. The Lee’s Summit School District partners with ReDiscover and Burrell Behavioral Health to provide therapeutic services to 350 students — not including those who receive services at school.

Students receive mental health services during summer school, which wraps up on June 28, ands can continue sessions with Burrell Behavioral Health at Lee's Summit North High School during July. ReDiscover will also continue sessions with students virtually or onsite.

Center School District

School counselors in the Center School District start working with families in April to figure out what support they’ll need during the summer break.

Dr. Roslyn Christopher, a school social worker who is now a professor of social work at the University of Kansas, said her team tries to cover all its communication bases by reaching out to families through text, email or social media.

“We all know at the end of the school year is crunch time,” Christopher said.

Community organizations including Jewish Family Services and the Community Assistance Council provide families in the school district with food, clothing and case workers over the break.

The school district also uses state grants to give families gift cards to purchase gas and groceries.

Center School District partners with Cornerstones of Care to provide therapy services for families during the summer. Christopher said therapists can see families at summer school, their home, a McDonalds or wherever is most convenient.

“We all know sometimes it's hard to get to those appointments,” Christopher said.

Shawnee Mission School District

The Shawnee Mission School District holds a “Summer Lunch Bunch Program” at which children aged 1-18 can receive free lunch at the district’s summer lunch locations from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Children need to eat their meal onsite because of U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. Adults may also buy lunch for $5 cash.

Olathe Public Schools

Olathe Public Schools’ community development department works directly with families as urgent needs arise over the summer, and also offers a free lunch program at its four elementary schools.

All children, aged 1-18, can eat for free Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. No registration or identification is required, but children must eat onsite.

Blue Springs School District

Social workers are on duty during summer school in the Blue Springs School District to connect students with assistance. Once summer school ends, the district’s McKinney-Vento liaison — a federally-mandated position that oversees students experiencing housing insecurity — will be the point person for any family needing support

A district spokesperson said community partners continue to provide summer meals for students.

Free lunch and grocery assistance across the metro

The USDA's summer meal program allows approved sites to serve meals and snacks to kids 18 and younger for free.

An online map allows families to find sites near them. Most locations in the Kansas City area require students to eat meals onsite, but some in rural areas allow families to take meals to go.

Families in Missouri and Kansas can eventually get help with grocery costs through the federal government’s new summer food assistance program, known as Sun Bucks. The program will give families $120 per child though an electronic benefits card.

Kansas families won’t begin receiving payments until the end of July. Families who didn’t receive automatic payments can apply after Aug. 12.

Since Missouri waited to opt into the summer program until just before the deadline, USDA approval is still pending and families may not receive assistance until the fall.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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