In lieu of Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement on Saturday in which all K-12 public schools would not meet in-person through March 27, local schools are left to seek out alternative methods of conducting classes, while others are struggling to hold classes at all.
On Wednesday, The News Herald spoke with Burke County Public Schools Public Relations Officer Cheryl Shuffler to determine what BCPS is doing in lieu of the two-week shutdown.
“Our priority right now, on day three of the school closure, remains the health and safety of our students and staff,” Shuffler said. “This week, we are focusing on that, which includes our feeding program.”
The school system is utilizing 18 school buses to deliver food to children throughout the county. Additionally, BCPS is serving meals at Mountain View, Hillcrest, Valdese, Ray Childers and George Hildebrand Elementary Schools, as well as East Burke, Liberty and Table Rock Middle Schools. It is also holding its supper program at Mountain View.
Shuffler said 4,630 students were fed meals on Wednesday — an increase of more than 1,200 from Tuesday’s numbers.
The system announced on Thursday it will add two stops to its routes. Bus 291 (Oak Hill) will be adding an 11:45 a.m. stop at Idlewild Acres Mobile Home Park off of Henderson Mill Road. Also, Bus 294 (Morgnaton) will add a 12:15 p.m. stop on Zion Road near Settlemyre Road at the mobile home park across from Zion Memorial United Methodist Church. The bus will park at the church, according to a release from BCPS.
During this time, school system faculty and administration are using the two-week closure to prepare for a potential transition to online or remote learning.
Still, there are roadblocks standing in the way of a possible transition to online learning.
“We estimate that 30 percent (roughly 3,750) of our 12,500 students do not have broadband (internet access), Shuffler said. “Our other challenge will be exceptional children and providing required services to them as if school were in session.”
For other schools, a transition is more feasible.
New Dimensions School is a K-8 public charter school with 336 total students. At this time, NDS teachers are utilizing a variety of tactics to conduct remote and online classes.
On Wednesday, The News Herald chatted with NDS Director David Burleson to determine the methods NDS’ teachers are using during this unforeseen period.
Teachers from each grade level have issued “learning packets” for the next two weeks to their students, while teachers from the higher grades are holding classes through online programs such as Google Classroom. On Wednesday, Burleson said he conducted a faculty meeting instructing teachers on online programs such as SeeSaw and Zoom, an organization which “helps schools improve student outcomes with secure video communication services for hybrid classrooms,” according to its website.
“We’re trying the best we can to give students some semblance of order,” Burleson said. “More importantly, we’re trying to let them know that ‘Hey, we’re here. We care about you. We’re going to be together soon.’”
According to Burleson, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Mark Johnson told school officials these two weeks should be used to establish the best platform — online or otherwise — to continue instruction in the most effective way.
At New Dimensions, this involves a mix of conventional methods with a modern twist — paper packets and online programs.
“Our goal is that these are home assignments that are not to be graded for any punitive purpose,” Burleson said. “(The packets) are to be used to help with academic support and move forward to help kids stay on schedule as best we can and to continue learning.”
For all local schools, during this time there will be a lot of learning on the fly.
“After these two weeks — after we’ve all adjusted to a different normal, we’ll all be able to decide what our next steps will be,” Burleson said. “None of us know how long this will last.”
“We continue to meet and discuss these challenges,” Shuffler said. “We are continuing to review our plans as we remain flexible in this ever-changing crisis that we are in.”