Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring, Maryland, has found creative, new ways to provide for the physical, educational and spiritual needs of their students through food drives, outdoor physical education classes and the distribution of learning materials.

Through partnerships with author Valerie Tripp, An Open Book Foundation, and First Book, Saint Francis International School students received a free bag of books during the Great Book Giveaway at the school on Oct. 26, 2020. 

Teachers and school staff members dressed up for the occasion, participating in a modified version of the annual “heroes and holy people” costume parade that the school typically celebrates this time of year. (CS photo Andrew Biraj)

Two high school students from local Catholic schools worked to help provide reading materials and organize them for distribution. Nicholas Kiwanuka, a student at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, personally gathered 1,751 books for the drive and Mark Johnson, a student at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, assisted in sorting the books.

“Many of the bags have books that were hand chosen by teachers for specific students,” Toby Harkleroad, principal of Saint Francis International School, said in an email.

Since students at Saint Francis International School are engaging in a distance learning method this fall and many of the students qualified for free and reduced price meals before the pandemic, all students are offered 10 meals each week which can be picked up each Monday. From March to August, the school made and distributed nearly 54,000 free meals for children in nearby neighborhoods. 

Because the opportunity for meals occurs each Monday, the school also invites students to participate in various socially-distant activities as well. Each Monday the school offers in-person physical education classes at the public park adjacent to the school and previous weeks have included events such as an outdoor pumpkin patch and picnic. 

Nicholas Kiwanuka (not pictured), a student at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, personally gathered 1,751 books for the book drive at Saint Francis International School. (CS Photo/Andrew Biraj)