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Schools confident as students return to traditional in-person learning

A Kindergarten class taught by West Elementary’s Teacher of the Year, Anita Owens, on their first day back to traditional learning. West Elementary photos: John Kirian

Monday, Sept. 21 saw a number of Wilson County students returning to in-person schooling for the first time since March 2.Since Aug. 17 when schools across Wilson County resumed, most students have been attending school on a hybrid platform, in which they’re in the school building only two days per week, and educated online the other three. This system was installed in order to protect the students and faculty of Wilson County schools by allowing for more effective COVID-19 precautions, such as social distancing and daily testing, to be practiced.

However, parents across the county have voiced concerns about this system, doubting the quality of education it can provide compared to traditional schooling, as well as struggling to provide childcare and education for their children during the week.

Principal of West Elementary School, Chris Plummer, commented that while the hybrid plan was the right call for keeping the students safe, he believes it cannot provide the same quality of education as a traditional school setting.

“We’ve been used to the hybrid platform since the Board voted on that several weeks ago, and it’s been very, very successful for us as far as keeping our COVID protocols in place and also to minimize the chances of spreading COVID-19, both to students and within faculty and staff members,” said Plummer. “I think based on keeping the numbers down and keeping the risk down for everyone, I feel that it is the most appropriate way to teach children. Although we are very, very impressed with our virtual teachers and our virtual learners, I still don’t think that there is a replacement for in-person instructional learning.”

With all of this to consider, the Wilson County Board of Education met on Tuesday, Sept. 8 to reevaluate the hybrid platform, and at the insistence of Wilson County’s parents, the Board voted to begin phasing students back into full-time in-person schooling, beginning with pre-kindergarten through third grade. They plan to revisit the idea for fourth grade through twelfth after Fall Break in October.

“We’re really excited about this. This is something that we want, and it’s something that the teachers want and are excited about, and for what it’s worth, the majority of our parents have communicated that same amount of excitement as well,” said Plummer.

This Monday, that group of students returned to school to begin their first regiment of traditional schooling since before Summer Break.

Teachers at West Elementary were happy to report an exciting and fun first day back, devoid of any problems or complications that might have worried parents.

“The kids are so excited to see each other again.”

“They’ve been looking forward to this since they’ve come back.”

“It’s so good to have a full classroom again.”

However, for any parents that may remain concerned, principal Plummer wants them to rest assured that he has full confidence in his school’s ability to deliver the same standard of safety to both students and faculty, even with the increased student body.

“I know for our COVID protocols, those were instituted with the mindset that we were working with our entire student population, which typically is right around 800 students. So it basically means that we’re still doing the temperature checks, still trying to be respectful of everyone’s space as much as possible, but also still to learn in a very safe environment. We go through our COVID questions each and every morning. Every individual that walks in the building still has their temperature checked. And we will continue to do that, and also to track any potential contact as we possibly can,” assured Plummer. “We feel that our COVID protocols are adequately meeting the needs of our faculty, staff and students.”

Wilson County Schools also assures parents that their plans are flexible and able to account for changes in the current COVID-19 situation.

“There’s no guarantees that pre-K through third will be traditional to the last day of school. There are no guarantees to say that following Fall Break, everyone will come back,” said Bart Barker, Public Information Officer for Wilson County Schools. “Everything is subject to change with the ebbs and flows of the virus.”

“Should there be a spike in cases with this influx of children that are coming back to the schools, our teachers and our district as a whole have all been briefed and have protocols in place should we go to remote,” followed Plummer.

Meanwhile, a number of students remain on a completely virtual learning platform, and the Board of Education currently has no plans to reevaluate this program until January. These teachers dedicated to the online students also report successful results, although many miss the energy and excitement that comes with a full classroom of children.

Chelsea Lombardi, West Elementary kindergarten teacher, instructing her virtual class.

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