April Community Award: Peekskill-Town of Cortlandt

Every day, members of our communities rise to meet unexpected challenges. From children to parents and from caregivers to businesses, we have all been asked to step up and become leaders. We’ve faced and pivoted to adapt and grow through our everchanging world due to unforeseen events that affect our daily lives. No action is too small, and together our impact is large.

Your actions should be recognized and celebrated. Our communities are the foundation of our society, and we stand stronger together. PLTW is proud to celebrate diverse communities and its members who exhibit collaboration, leadership, and entrepreneurship in service across the nation. As a result, we have created the PLTW Community Celebration Awards to recognize communities that have come together to care for each other in times of need. Join us in celebrating the following community this month!

The Peekskill-Town of Cortlandt community in New York – home of the Hendrick Hudson (“Hen Hud”) School District – prides itself on a history of coming together in difficult times to support one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception.

From the day schools shut down, the focus was on the immediate needs of families, especially ensuring that students who were served meals at school continued to receive that critical benefit. Hen Hud’s Director of Food Services Clare Carey and her staff rose to the challenge, serving tens of thousands of meals from the high school parking lot, even making deliveries this winter to ensure that families had meals to get them through weekends and breaks.

The district’s students also were focused on helping in any way they could. The Blue Mountain Middle School’s student government collected food for 15 local families in need during their annual Thanksgiving food drive. They also instituted a community service project called "Stuff the Bins" to support food pantries in Peekskill and Verplanck. Students and staff were encouraged to place donations in bins located in the school’s main lobby, as well as outside for weekend drop offs. The program garnered 33 bins of food and baby blankets for distribution at local food pantries.

Health and safety were at the forefront of students’ minds as well. Students in a PLTW Medical Interventions class created a PSA about COVID-19 last spring, sharing what they learned in class about personal protective equipment (PPE), disease spread, and prevention, in order to help keep the community safe. In the six-minute video, students share many facts about the coronavirus, as well as common prevention tips. From their homes, students recorded themselves demonstrating how to properly wear and remove facemasks and gloves, wash hands, and other good hygiene practices.

Fun and fitness couldn’t be ignored either during the pandemic. Two PLTW students, who also happen to be multi-sport Sailor athletes, joined forces to create Comeback Kids Sports, an organization that donates used sports equipment to underprivileged youth in the U.S. and worldwide. They have already shipped over 1,500 items all over the world and plan to follow up as mentors to as many of the recipients as possible.

The Hen Hud community has also taken steps to ensure digital equity. Technology became an even more important component of instruction as learning shifted to remote, in-person, and hybrid settings. The district quickly moved to a 1:1 device ratio, with all students receiving a Chromebook and stylus. However, many families in the district did not have Wi-Fi or other internet access. The local library, the Hendrick Hudson Free Library, already had 10 hotspots available for local families to “check out.” Once the pandemic hit, Library Director Jill Davis immediately moved to secure grant funding, matched by funds raised by the Hendrick Hudson Community Educational Foundation, to purchase 10 more hotspots with the ability to serve up to an additional 100 users.

“Since last spring’s sudden school closure, the COVID-19 pandemic has been shining a bright light on the Hendrick Hudson community’s tremendous ability to rise to any challenge, together,” Superintendent Joseph Hochreiter said. “Our community has always supported one another during adversity and will continue to do so throughout the pandemic and beyond. This award exemplifies everything that is special about our school community. Whether it is staff going above and beyond for our students every day or the students themselves, tapping into a deep passion to help others, we are extremely proud of our Sailor community.”