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First week of the school brings challenges, triumphs

First week of the school brings challenges, triumphs

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With COVID-19 restrictions and precautions in place, educators faced a steep learning curve and a new normal for schools in the first week of the 2020-21 school year.

The first week was challenging for Hickory Public Schools, but everyone is giving it their all as all students continue online learning, Beverly Snowden, director of communications for the school district, said. The system is offering only virtual learning for at least the first four weeks of school.

“Several principals said it’s been a challenging, but incredible week,” Snowden said.

This proved to be true for Eric Puryear, principal of Hickory Career & Arts Magnet High School (HCAM) and HPS Principal of the Year, '20-21.

“HCAM is excited to be in a rebranding phase even in the midst of COVID,” Puryear said. “We have changed our mascot, enrolled our largest freshman class and created new programs within the school.”

Even though the first week of virtual learning had a bumpy start — including some statewide technical glitches — Puryear said he was proud of the work of his staff and students. “HCAM faculty and staff have diligently worked by creating interactive webpages, robust Canvas pages and reaching out to every student to have a successful opening to the 2020 - 2021 school year,” he said. “At the end of every storm there is a rainbow!”

Since education is done online, teachers don’t just face the frustrations of dealing with technology, but also have to find new ways to keep their students engaged.

Jennifer Griffin, principal at Grandview Middle School, said she's watched veteran teachers adapt to the virtual world.

“I had a veteran teacher who really struggled in the spring to adapt to remote learning,” she said. “Thursday, he came running up to my office with his Chromebook to show me what his kids were doing and how engaged they were. That type of enthusiasm, to run up to my office to share a success, is so important to keep us going. The joy he expressed was fuel to keep working and keep trying in those moments when things feel hard.”

Snowden said teachers only have a small screen to work with, but are learning how to better read a student’s body language to make sure they are paying attention and understanding the material. They are also offering help to one another as they are learning new ways to teach their students.

“Teachers are supporting one another,” she said.

Teachers are working from the schools, so principals have the opportunity to check in on classes and say hello to students.

"We miss the students being with us in person, but seeing students’ faces online and watching their interaction with teachers has been priceless,” said Terry Ashley, principal at Oakwood Elementary School. “That was absolutely the biggest positive for me, and it affirmed my belief that 'We Can Do This!'”

Both students and parents have done well to stay engaged in school work and communicating with their teachers and schools, according to Snowden. “It’s up and down, but progress is happening,” she said.

Calandra Davis, principal of Jenkins Elementary School, is thankful for a cooperative staff, students, and parents. “Everyone has worked extremely hard to adjust to these unforeseen circumstances with grace and passion, all the while putting the best interests of students first,” she said. “I also marvel at the resilience of our students who are so eager to learn and connect with their teachers and peers.

“Last and certainly not least, I am so impressed by our students' parents who have demonstrated patience, understanding and support for our school despite the challenges of this year,” Davis said.

Catawba County Schools and Newton-Conover City Schools (N-CCS) also started classes this week.

N-CCS started with a hybrid plan for students to attend school in person and participate in online learning.

“Our staff and students continue to amaze me at their flexibility and adaptability in the midst of this ‘once in a century’ challenge,” Aron Gabriel, superintendent of the school district, said. “Staff have gone above and beyond to accommodate our students and make them feel more comfortable with the new safety protocols.”

N-CCS faced many challenges as they prepared for the first week including planning and implementing bus routes.

“Our bus routing specialist, transportation staff and administrators have done a fantastic job of creating, revising, and implementing these bus routes,” Gabriel said. “Without their efforts, we would have been unable to have reopened our schools as we have.”

Gabriel said students have been compliant with the way schools have to operate and seem to understand that it is a transitional phase on the journey back to normal.

Kayleigh Spivey, a teacher at North Newton Elementary School, said her students were quick to adapt to the changes made this school year. “My sweet first-graders abided by every rule and acted like complete champs today,” she said. “We can really learn some things from kiddos if we watch closely.”

“Our families have also been extremely thoughtful and supportive of our efforts to maintain safety while meeting students’ academic and emotional needs. I have been very proud of each member (staff, students, and families) of this school system,” Gabriel said.

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