By Tia Lynn Ivey
Education in the age of the coronavirus poses unique challenges for teachers and students to balance safety and health with continuing academic progress. But Morgan County is up to the task, say school officials.
Superintendent of Morgan Schools Dr. Virgil Cole is praising teachers and staff for going above and beyond to educate students in the midst of new safety protocols and additional work of adding virtual learning programs for students. Cole praised students for their positive attitudes and compliance with wearing masks and social distancing.
“Obviously, opening schools in the middle of a pandemic is not something we usually prepare for,” said Dr. Cole during the State of Morgan County 2020 Forum last week. “We knew we would have some bumps in the road as we worked through this, but we have prepared the best we could…I am very proud of our teachers and students. Everybody is pulling together like we hoped they would.”
Assistant Superintendent Jay Homan is grateful for the support and cooperation among students, parents, teachers, and community partners.
“We are very proud of our students, staff, and our community for the manner in which they have approached the start of the new school year,” said Homan. “Our students returned to school eager to learn and willing to accept the additional responsibilities of wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and following additional safety guidelines. Our staff has done a tremendous job of being flexible and adjusting to these ever-changing times. In addition to teaching the curriculum virtually and in-person, teachers and support staff have been actively reinforcing healthy hygiene practices and providing social-emotional support to our students. Our community has been very supportive and understanding as we navigate through the challenges of offering in-person learning during a pandemic. They have been patient with traffic and understanding and supportive of our safety protocols.”
One elementary school teacher, Jeanine Rice, stressed the love and care Morgan County teachers are showing their students during these unprecedented times.
“We are working like crazy to make this work for our families, whether they are in school or quarantined. We are staying late and working weekends to create flipped lessons, find videos, and ensure students’ social and emotional needs are met. It’s a whole system effort!” explained Rice. “Schools with higher numbers are contact tracing left and right to keep our whole community safe.”
Rice expressed gratitude for the willingness of students and parents to bear with school officials as they work out the kinks for this school year. “We are grateful for the community support and grace we’ve been shown as we work through this new way of doing education,” said Rice. “New doesn’t mean bad… It just requires some patience and humor. Thanks, OneMorgan for keeping us safe by keeping CDC guidelines in mind as you move about the community!”
The Morgan County school system is comprised of four schools, responsible for educating over 3,400 students. Despite positive coronavirus cases among students and staff and more than 150 students quarantined, principals from all four Morgan County schools are encouraged by the resilient school spirit among students and teachers.
“Overwhelmed is the only word to describe how we feel about our students and their response to returning to the building,” said Morgan County High School Principal, Dr. Miki Edwards stated. “We are so proud of their efforts and personal responsibility towards working on going the distance this year.”
Despite setbacks, Morgan County High School is implementing a new program to a honor a student each week. Every week, a student who has demonstrated helpful actions while navigating the difficult path the coronavirus has carved out for the school.
Morgan County Middle School Principal Hillary Meeler praised her team of teachers and staff for the team effort in reopening school.
“Our staff and students are so excited to be back in the building for face to face instruction. It is evident that our students want to be here and that our staff members want all of our students in the building!” said Meeler. “Even though the current circumstances are not ideal, everyone is working together to ensure that we all stay as safe and healthy as possible. Students are doing an excellent job wearing masks and complying with our social distancing guidelines. Teachers are working with our custodial staff to sanitize classrooms and frequently touched surfaces between class periods, and our custodians are cleaning/disinfecting all areas of the building each day.”
Meeler is disheartened over the students who have been quarantined, but not defeated.
“Unfortunately, we have been required to quarantine several groups of students due to direct exposure. Our students in quarantine are working remotely and our teachers are utilizing a variety of resources to ensure students are keeping up with the curriculum while they are out of the building,” said Meeler. “We have been successful with students joining classes virtually while in quarantine and are currently working on making lessons available “offline” for students to complete who have limited internet access at home. Our Digital Learning Days coming up will enable our teachers and students to get more familiar with the implementation of these tools.”
Morgan County Elementary School Principal Linda Smith is impressed with how teachers are handling the challenged posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the compliance among young students.
“They are handling it really well,” said Smith. “My teachers and students are doing so well at social distancing and that’s the big thing.
Smith said elementary school teachers set times to ensure students are never together in a close group less than six feet apart for longer than 14 minutes.
“Everybody is just so happy. Parents want their kids to stay in school as long as possible. The kids want to be back in school. The teachers wanted their students back,” said Smith.
Morgan County Primary School Principal James Wyatt explained that his teachers are doing everything possible to provide a safe learning environments for their kids.
“The teachers have put the safety of our students at the forefront of everything they are doing while also trying to create a school environment that is as close to normal as possible,” said Wyatt. “They not only are providing students with quality instruction, they are also assisting with minor cleaning. Everyone in the building is doing their part to ensure our students are safe.”