Branson Hospital employees were shocked when they learned their children would be on a much longer Spring break than was scheduled. This posed quite a problem since the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) required Cox Branson employees to be at work while their children were at home. No one knew how long the emergency would last.
“When schools closed after spring break, so many of our hospital employees went into full-on desperation mode to find childcare,” said Brandei Clifton, communications manager Corp Communications. “We had 20-25 essential health care workers who were nervous about finding childcare once school was canceled.”
Branson School District Superintendent Dr. Brad Swofford contacted the hospital administration to get an idea of how many children might need a place to attend school.
“Once we told him several dozen, he made the decision to open a special school session at Cedar Ridge Elementary for students Kindergarten through eighth grade,” Clifton said.
The special, free session was open to students in the Branson district, and for Cox employees whose children attend school in other districts. The children also receive meals while at school.
“Our vision at Cox Branson is to be the best for those who need us,” said Hospital President William Mahoney. “Branson Public Schools exceeded our expectations and achieved that vision for being the best for us, and our blessed little ones. I’m so grateful for them for helping reduce the anxiety of our team. We are all extremely humbled by this kindness.”
The school has medical safety measures in place. All of the staff and students have their temperatures taken each morning.
“We make sure there is plenty of hand washing and keep the children in small groups,” Cedar Ridge Elementary Principal Dr. Michelle Collins said. “There are children from 4-6 different school districts on any given day. It is so rewarding to be able to accommodate families from neighboring communities. The school days are built around the children, and what they want to do. It is different than a traditional school.”
The school not only helps the children it serves, but also those serving.
“This has been so therapeutic for our staff and the children,” said Collins. “It gives our volunteer teachers the opportunity to continue working with kids even though their school year ended so abruptly. It also gives the students a sense of normalcy and the opportunity to talk about their feelings throughout all of this.”
There are about 20-25 students attending the program daily. The school district will continue the program as long as it is “feasible” and there is a need. In the meantime, regular summer school plans are being made.
gle mom Dani Loftin, CoxHealth physical therapy assistant from Reeds Spring, is thankful to Branson School District for giving she and her two children “calm in the chaos.” It gives her “a great sense of peace” that they are not only in a safe environment “but a loving, fun, happy one during a time when our kids are being inundated with confusion, anxiety and uncertainty in the world around them,” Loftin said. “As a parent, this is priceless to me, and it is almost impossible to describe the relief that it gives me every day to feel that I can concentrate on my job, knowing that my kids are safe, secure, happy and having the time of their lives.”
Loftin’s children, Hazel, 11 and Ben, 9 report to their mother daily about how “awesome and fun” their teachers are, and about the activities they get to do.
“They brag about how cool the teachers and staff are who are volunteering,” Loftin said. “Just yesterday they said, ‘we got to go outside in the sunshine and read books on a bench.’”
Without the help and sacrifices of the teachers at the “school,” Loftin, says she had no options for daycare and would not have been able to continue working since school was closed.
"This generosity and caring of the Branson School District community to provide help to those who need it, in turn, allows me to give my best to my patients and those that need me to care for them, Loftin said. “It is the ultimate example of paying it forward, rising up and helping one another overcome hardships.”