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Small Sacramento County school district takes big steps to help its students thrive

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- It has recess, art class and dedicated lunch ladies like every other district in Sacramento County, but the Robla School District on the very north end of Sacramento is also defined by another factor.

"Ninety-two percent of our students are living in poverty," RSD Wellness Coordinator Erica Lee said.

"It's isolated. The freeway kind of cuts us off from much of the other kinds of services and options that are available to people who live in other parts of the city,” Superintendent Ruben Reyes said. "I often say that a large district is like an ocean liner that takes a while to turn and we're kind of a rowboat that can turn more quickly."

One of the turns the district has made in recent years was with planning to keep students nourished over the entire day -- not just while they're at school.

Right before Thanksgiving, that took the form of a turkey giveaway right on campus with help of the Sacramento Police Department.

“We're going to need to make some of the services available to our families that help them overcome the challenges that they face,” Reyes said.

That's why much of what Robla does centers on food.

The district provides kids who live in what some call a fast-food swamp with three hot meals each day. And it's not just about filling plates but helping kids and their whole families learn about eating and even cooking healthy.

Part of that is what Lee does for the district. Her position isn’t often found in other districts.

That has meant Robla takes kids out to a farm and lets them do things like plant the lettuce that ends up in their salad bar.

Most of the students here don't have a family doctor or a family car to drive to one. So the district uses some of the $11,000 in state funding it gets per pupil, per year to pay for a healthcare plan that's then free for students.

Eighty percent of Robla's families have signed on.

With the help of the school nurse and an iPad, a child can have a sore throat or other ailment checked virtually by a doctor from Hazel Telemedicine who can order some medication. Ninety percent of the kids who have had a Hazel visit are able to save their parents a missed day of work because they're able to go back to class.

Gary Sterkel knows about the burdens families can face during the school years. His younger brother, Larry, had down syndrome and wasn't expected to live past his teens.

With the support all his siblings and his mother got through RSD decades ago, Sterkel said Larry thrived until he passed away last year at 60.

That special brand of caring motivated him to place his own sons in RSD and now that his grandkids are there, he said he feels compelled to volunteer whenever he can.

"I want to pay back what they did for my family,” Sterkel said.

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