Teachers learning valuable lessons during pandemic

Better relationships being formed with students and parents

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White County Middle School was the host for the Oct. 8 meeting of the White County Board of Education, and administrators were proud to present the progress the staff and teachers have been making during the challenging first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year.

“It’s been a tough start to the school year, as you well know,” White County Middle School principal Farrah Griffith told the board. “But our teachers have taken it in stride, and we’ve grown a lot as adults. There’s always things we learn from adversity, and we’ve got some pretty neat things that we have learned this year.”

Among those things that Griffith said faculty and staff has been learning is how to use technology to enhance the learning experience for WCMS students.

“We are doing Google meets with our students on quarantine, but we have found it’s a good and interesting thing to learn to do,” she said and then expanded on how it is helping students throughout the school. “It has been helpful for not just kids in quarantine but out for another illness or [in] in-school suspension. We have also learned that if a teacher is out sick, we can set up a Google meet from one class to another. So rather than a sub handing out a worksheet and students missing out on instruction time, they are now participating just like all of their peers.”

She explained that a substitute teacher is in the room with the students to facilitate the Google meet and to answer questions and work with students, but a teacher from another classroom is livestreamed in for the instruction and teaches both their own class and the one with the absent teacher simultaneously.

Another positive that Griffith pointed to come from the hybrid start to the current year had to do with teacher-student relationships.

“Our teachers really enjoyed getting to form relationships with those kids that they had just a few days a week,” she said. “It gave us a level of personal time with kids that we weren’t used to. I think that has helped with discipline referrals and overall behavior in the building. And probably the best side effect of our time hybrid time is that middle school parents and middle school teachers didn’t always have the best communication. Our teachers have learned to call parents and have valued those relationships. They learned things about kids they didn’t know before. We have made positive parent communications and opened that avenue we didn’t have before. With all of the adversity that we have faced through the pandemic, this has been really cool for us.”

Other items on the monthly meeting’s agenda included a COVID-19 update from the director of schools, Kurt Dronebarger, who informed the board the district’s numbers were remaining low and that the school system was staying in the green as far as new cases of the COVID-19 virus.

“It’s not perfect -  it’s a challenge,” Dronebarger said. “Everyone is tired, but they are not complaining. They’re finding innovative ways to teach and just getting it done. I can’t brag enough on our faculty and staff. It’s really, really hard. It’s frustrating. But I meet weekly with the directors from all over the Upper Cumberland, and I am convinced that we are doing this as well, if not better, than anyone else.”

Other items on the agenda included approving the White County High School girls’ basketball team trip to Pensacola, Florida, for Dec. 27-31 and approving volunteer coaches Dani Welch (swimming), Elam Thompson (WCMS soccer), and Shanee Wallace (WCHS girls’ basketball).

In addition, the board approved budget transfers, updated insurance rates for faculty and staff, a new lease for a new copier at Doyle Elementary School, and listened to committee reports.

Before the meeting adjourned, Dronebarger read, and answered, questions that members of the community had submitted via the district’s website:

(1) If students have tested positive for COID-19, are they exempt from another quarantine?

ANSWER: Yes for 90 days, but at day 91 that starts over, and the need for quarantines is back in effect.

(2) Can we take the masks off during class?

ANSWER: Masks must be worn anywhere social distancing cannot be maintained. Students are being allowed to take them off during recess, but, if parents prefer, their student can keep a mask on during this time as well. Masks are also not worn during PE, as long as spacing can be maintained

(3) Are there any stats for those quarantined and have actually tested positive for COVID-19 (during that time)?

ANSWER: We don’t have that information. 

(4) Why are we still having sports and playing football?

ANSWER: We scan fans coming in and ask them to wear masks, but it is hard to enforce. Dronebarger considered stopping games and asking fans to put masks on, but referees and officials can only stay for a designated amount of time and can’t delay the game for too long. 

(5) Is there a video of the special meeting that was held on Oct. 1?

ANSWER: No, but the minutes will be posted to the district’s website whitecoschools.net

Dronebarger also issued a statement about the district’s existing policies and procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The White County school district does not have the authority to quarantine anyone,” he said. “We are following the guidelines of the state health department as suggested by our attorney. We are trying to make the best decisions we can to keep everyone safe and healthy and keep schools open five days a week. I can’t say enough about our nursing staff that are making those phone calls ahead of the health department. The doctors we met with last week said that it is being effective.”

“I am so very proud of every member of our team,” he continued. “They have risen to the challenge, and we are providing quality education five days a week, which is what the parents said they wanted. It’s going extremely well amidst all the challenges.”

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