NEW BUFFALO – With a little (or a lot) of help from The Pokagon Fund, New Buffalo Area Schools will be meeting two challenges brought on by COVID-19.  During the Oct. 26 Board of Education meeting, trustees voted to accept a Pokagon Fund grant of $25,000 to be used for additional social work assistance and another $25,000 grant for courtyard upgrades at the Middle/High School. 

“The Pokagon Fund (TPF) has really been awesome with their support during this time,” Superintendent Jeff Leslie said. 

Leslie said the additional social work funds would be used for mental health counseling, both group and one-on-one, to meet the needs identified by Hilary Cunningham, NBAS social worker. 

He said a $15,000 grant was first approved last fall, but was not used due to staff shortages at the Center for Wellness. When the district reapplied this year, TPF suggested upping the grant request to $25,000.   

“As we’ve gotten into this pandemic, our mental health needs have been greater than they’ve ever been. We know what the need is. We just need more professional help and that is what this grant will allow us to do,” Leslie said, adding that counseling space already is set up at both the district’s campuses. 

The second grant for $25,000 will be used to make the “safe, secure” 10, 000-square-foot interior courtyard at the Middle/High School more user friendly and low maintenance. Leslie said the space has gained in popularity during the pandemic.

Leslie said he also wants to use the project to showcase the contributions of the Pokagon Band to the area. He said he was working with Marcus Winchester, director of language and culture for the Pokagons, which will match up to $25,000 for the courtyard improvements.

Leslie said that with all the help over the years the Pokagon Band has provided, including $23 million through Local Revenue Sharing Funds plus various grants from The Pokagon Fund, there is no reference to the tribe on school property. 

“I want the kids to know where that Educational Trust Fund comes from,” he said. 

During his comments, Leslie noted that the district had no active or probable COVID-19 cases, with four students and zero staff members in quarantine as of Oct. 26. Earlier in the meeting, the board approved the required monthly update of its Extended COVID-19 Plan showing both in-person and Bison Virtual Academy instruction. 

Leslie congratulated Director of Food Service Patty Iazzetto and her staff for passing inspections of both kitchens, and Building Trades Teacher Robert Hughes for passing inspections on this year’s house which should be completed by the end of the school year.   

Other business included the first reading of policies covering the following: Term; Curriculum Development; Homebound Instruction Program; Reproductive Health and Family Planning; Threatening Behavior Toward Staff Members; Controlled Substance and Alcohol Policy for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers and Other Employees Who Perform Safety-Sensitive Functions; Attendance; Care of Students with Chronic Health Conditions; Authorization to Accept and Distribute Electronic Records and to Use Electronic Signatures; School Safety Information; Student Abuse and Neglect, and Transportation. 

The revised policies are available for review in the district office.

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