Back to school, students’ first day scheduled Friday, August 7

CLASSROOM READY – With school scheduled to open Friday, August 7, Stigall Primary School principal, Tiffany Purnell, displays what many classrooms will look like when students arrive. Students will remain in the same classroom all day while teachers rotate between classrooms. There will be one student per table and the entire day’s work will be on the table.

by Danny Wade

Education in Humboldt will look different this year. Education around the world will look different. Many people in Humboldt want to know what school will look like.

Interim superintendent, Lillian Shelton, gave an update to school board members last Tuesday afternoon. On Thursday, Shelton went further in-depth explaining what school will look like in Humboldt. She brought in special education supervisor Beverly Cannon to be part of the discussion.

Shelton and her team of professionals have plans in place but also said the plans are subject to change at any given time. What the plan looks like today could change tomorrow depending on what the Tennessee Department of Education mandates.

A perfect example happened last week. When the newspaper came out, the article about school opening made the front page. Unfortunately between the time the article was written and the time the newspaper was printed and delivered, the ever-changing plans had again changed.

In her first few days on the job, Shelton said she thought school in Humboldt would be delays two or three weeks from the scheduled first day of July 31. After speaking with other superintendents in the county and hearing their start-up plans, and later talking and planning with the principals and administrative staff, it was decided to only postpone school for one week.

Shelton said she and the school staff believe they can have everything ready for school to begin on August 7. All staff and students will be required to wear facemasks, as well as, pass the temperature test before entering the building. Anyone with a temp of 100.4 or more will be sent home. Social distancing will be practiced at every phase of the school day.

School for the 2020-21 year will look nothing like any school year before. The first couple of weeks will be a litmus test on how well the overall plans are working. Cannon and Shelton expect changes to be made on the fly since this type of education is uncharted territory.

Shelton and school staffs have contacted parents and students to let them know the options. Some students (and parents) have selected the option for virtual learning where the student will attend classes from their house on a computer. As of last Thursday, over 200 of the 1,100 students in Humboldt City Schools had signed up for virtual learning. Shelton believes that number will increase in the coming days as more information is released. Ideally, Shelton would like to see half of the students going virtual, especially the seniors.

Cannon said seniors would benefit from virtual learning since many college courses already use this technology. Virtual classes in high school would make the transition smoother into the college atmosphere.

In-school learning will look totally different as well. Instead of every student attending school in person each day, students will be divided into two groups—group A and group B.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, group A will attend school. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, group B will be in session. Fridays will be days for teachers to prepare homework packets and grade the packets brought back to school. Students will have work assignments each of their three off days to complete at home and bring back to school their next day. Fridays could also be used for teachers and students to work on individual lessons, which the student may be having trouble and need extra instruction.

Even though the Tennessee Department of Education is bending and changing the rules, and thinking outside the box on how to education students, one thing did not change. All public schools will still have a minimum of 180 days as if it was a normal school year.

Classroom sizes will be reduced to 12 or less students at a time, most having 10. Most teachers have chosen to use tables and chairs, as opposed to the desks typically found in classrooms. These students will remain in the same classroom for the entire day. Teachers will rotate from classroom to classroom. This will minimize student movement.

Of course students will leave the classroom for restroom breaks and lunch. Breakfast will be served in the classrooms as normal and lunch will be held in the cafeteria. There will be four cafeteria periods at the junior/senior high and at East, depending on the numbers of students that attend in person. If more students select in-school learning, one option for lunch could be to use the school gyms for overflow in order to maintain social distancing. Virtual students may pick up their meals at the schools if they choose.

Each student may have lesson plans on their table for each subject, such as math, science, English, etc. and all the material needed for the day. Each day, classrooms will be cleaned and sanitized.

Students learning virtually will use the state approved software, Schoolology. Shelton said Humboldt students have been using this software in schools for several years. Students are already familiar with it, which should make transitioning to a full day of computer education a bit smoother.

Virtual testing could be an issue, Shelton noted. They are weighing options on how testing will take place.

One option that might be used is holding Zoom meetings periodically for testing. This way the teacher will be able to see each student at work on his or her computer at home. Teachers may also use Zoom meetings as an interactive way to have an actual classroom environment while students are at home.

Another option is to have students come to school in limited numbers to physically test. Shelton said this would be more likely for the bigger test such as state exams and end of course tests.

Getting students to and from school will be a logistical issue. Typically, a school bus will have 55 students, plus the bus driver and monitor. Now, only 12 students will be allowed to ride at a time. If more students selecting virtual learning, the number of students riding the bus will be less, making the plan simpler.

On a normal day of school for 1,100 students, buses run routes, fill up with students and drop them off at their respective schools. But with students virtual learning, and the in-person students divided into two groups, that could translate to approximately 300 students per day.

Right now, Humboldt and practically every school system across the nation are scrambling to come up with a plan that fits their needs. Shelton said the superintendents’ meeting held regularly for all five school districts in the county is a wonderful tool. They can bounce ideas off each other and share what plans worked for their respective school and which plans did not work out as well as predicted.

Shelton also said having administrative meetings with principals, central office staff and others within the Humboldt school system is also helpful. All ideas are shared and discussed.

With so much uncertainty for the 2020-21 school year, school officials need all the ideas and planning they can get. But no matter what plans are in place when school begins, Shelton and other superintendents know those plans will be tweaked as needed to make sure students learn while being safe.

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