Over the past year, two significant concerns have been brought to the forefront of our communities. The first is digital illiteracy and inequity. When Polk County schools were forced to transition to fully virtual instruction, district officials estimated that 25% of students did not have devices at home to complete their schooling. While some students were provided a district-issued device, many of their parents did not have the technical skills to support their child in online learning. Even with many students back in the classroom, the problem of digital illiteracy among the parents remains.
The second issue was food insecurity. School officials knew that many of the free meals given to students on a daily basis — 35,000 breakfasts and 60,000 lunches — may have been the only meals those students would receive that day. When the pandemic forced schools to switch to distance learning, school officials were concerned with making sure these students had access to healthy food, not simply junk foods and drive-through dinners.
To address these concerns, Polk Vision’s Literacy and Smart Communities Teams, in alignment with multiple departments within Polk County Public Schools (including Technology Services, School Nutrition, Library Media Services, Polk County Career Academies, and Workforce Education), Polk County Library Cooperative, Polk State College Corporate College, and Central Florida Health Care, have developed the “Know and Grow” program. “Know and Grow” is an initiative of the “Synched for Students” partnership between Polk Vision and Polk County Public Schools, and it features two main components:
- Groups of 25 adults work through a three-part digital and computer literacy workshop. Each of the two-and-a-half-hour sessions has a particular focus, starting with 1) Getting to Know Your Device / School Supports and Resources; 2) Supported Remote Learning Platforms and Parent Portal; and 3) Windows, Internet, and Word 101. (An optional fourth session is available to introduce parents to the Florida Ready to Work online credentialing system and other resources.)
- While parents attend the sessions, the children are divided into age-appropriate groups to learn about nutrition and body wellness. These lessons take the form of interactive games, instruction on how to follow a recipe, introduction to new food items, and other food-based activities.
Not only do parents and children receive invaluable information in these sessions, but the children are given grab-and-go meals, and parents who complete the program are entered to win a refurbished computer for their own home use.
Polk Vision launched the “Know and Grow” program with two groups, one group at Inwood Elementary in Winter Haven, and the other at Crystal Lake Elementary in Lakeland. Interest and participation in this program remain high, and with the help of funding from No Kid Hungry, it has expanded to 10 area schools.
Know & Grow is an initiative of Synced for Students, a partnership between Polk Vision & Polk County Public Schools to build technological equity within Polk County. The program would not have been possible without the support and partnership of the following Polk Vision partners: Learning Resource Center, Polk County Library Cooperative, Polk County Public Schools’ Workforce Education Department, Central Florida Health Care and Theatre Winter Haven’s DramaTime: Live!