ST. ALBANS, W.Va. — The first day of school is always filled with anticipation and jitters for educators and students. This school year around the state, those feelings remain but for different reasons.
Tuesday was the first day of school in West Virginia with nearly a dozen counties forced to begin virtually due to COVID-19 and the rest returning to the classroom for the first time in March with strict guidelines in place.
Kanawha County, the state’s largest school district, was one of nine counties to begin the school year online due to its status on the DHHR color-coded coronavirus map.
Haley Webb, a fourth-grade teacher at Lakewood Elementary in St. Albans told MetroNews on Tuesday her school is trying to make the most out of the situation.
“It’s their (students) first day of school, they are excited. Some of them are not thrilled to be doing the e-learning but we are making our lemonade out of our lemons,” she said.
“They are still excited, they still want to see their friends and do fun stuff.”
Webb, in her fourth year teaching fourth-grade, said she spoke to her 19 students in two live lessons via Kanawha County Schools’ online learning platform, Schoology, on Tuesday morning. She said this week will be for the student to learn the system and Microsoft Teams in assignments such as uploading a picture and filing a document.
Next week for Webb is when regular math, science and social studies courses will begin.
“It might be me doing a 20 to 30-minute live lesson next week and then them staying online and doing their own thing working. I’m still right here to answer any questions they might have,” Webb said of working live online.
Kelly Haynes, the principal at Lakewood told MetroNews that all grades will have the ability to have live teaching and communication with the instructors. She said for the parents, the live lessons will be saved online to review with their child at any time of the day and there will be live re-teach sessions.
Haynes added that her 254 students, whom 150 are signed up for in-person courses if Kanawha moves back to yellow on the map, are better set up for success compared to when the pandemic shut down schools in March.
She cited more technology in the hands of students with Kanawha County’s iPad program, sub-standards for students, parents and teachers to follow, lunches being delivered on bus routes, and set schedules that include special courses like P.E., music and art.
“Ideally as an educator, yes, I want every kid to be here in-person and be a part of their learning and hands-on. I want every kid to have that experience. But given the situation that we are in, we are going to do the very best that we can,” Haynes said.
Andrea Nelson, a fourth and fifth-grade teacher at Lakewood told MetroNews that she felt the school was better prepared to begin Tuesday than in the spring following meetings throughout the summer.
“We were on such a strong path in school and then whenever you are put in that, you’re kind of treading water figuring it out,” Nelson said of March. “This year we have strategized of where we want to start with them to build what they can do to learn.”
The preparation resulted in no mishaps for students on the first day, according to first-grade teacher Brooke Walker. She said there were no troubles when doing the one-on-one assessments with her young kids on Tuesday.
“The team of teachers here at Lakewood is unbelievable. We have worked all summer to better familiarize ourselves with Schoology. We have been teaching each other through our text messages and Microsoft Teams. We are ready to start teaching,” she said.
46 of the 55 counties began back in-person Tuesday because the certain county was green or yellow on the map. Nelson said whenever Kanawha County moves to those colors, the county will be stronger because of this and have new ways to learn with Schoology.
“Even if we are in-person, say they (students) are absent. They can log onto Schoology and watch a video on the skill they missed so they are not behind,” she said. “For example, a snow day because you can get on Schoology and get your lesson for the week and assignments.”
Story by Jake Flatley