School systems across North Carolina are finding ways to connect with students who are struggling during the holiday winter break. In Watauga County, it's a partnership with the community to help meet the growing needs of many children.

Denise Presnell has been a social worker in Watauga County Schools for more than two decades.

“Teachers see more needs than they did when they were in the buildings because they are seeing into peoples houses," she says. "And so, you may see a child who you think doesn't have need but now that you are actually in the home with them, you realize that there actually may be some needs that you hadn't been able to tell when they were in your classroom.”

Presnell has seen a lot of challenges in this rural district, but says the pandemic has created more stress for families than she's ever experienced.

She gets calls from parents asking for help with paying large power bills that have grown during jobs losses and remote learning.

"It used to be people saying can you help me with this bill before it gets cut off its's $200 — and now routinely it's someone needing $900, so that's been a change. It's just the amount of need that's out there."

There are also requests for basic needs like winter coats and transportation.

The district is working collaboratively with faith-based organizations and local nonprofits to create a holiday adoption, angel trees, and food box programs.

Watauga County School Superintendent Scott Elliott says it will provide extra meals for hundreds of families during winter break.

“We are working with our community and those who want to contribute to provide extra meals over the holidays. We are anticipating providing at least 300 extra meals through the food box program and that's a lot for a small community like ours," says Elliott.

Watauga County Schools serves more than 4,000 students.

Currently, kindergarten through 12th grade attend in a hybrid model, with two days of in-person instruction. Pre-K and exceptional children attend in-person classes four days a week.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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