The 2019-2020 academic school year is coming to a close. It is safe to say that when the year began, no school administrator, teacher, student, or parent ever expected it to end the way it did. Even as late as the beginning of March, everything was progressing as scheduled. Then entered COVID-19, a pandemic unlike anything seen since, well, since the last pandemic that also shut everything down, including schools, in 1918- 1920.
Fast forward a hundred years, schools unexpectedly shuttered again. Fall and winter sports seasons had ended, but there were still many sports to go. The 2020 seasons of baseball, softball, tennis, golf, track & field, and soccer will never be completed, never go into the record books, and the stars who were to have been can only dream.
Band, chorus, and drama students looking forward to spring concerts, awards, and musicals will have only their imaginations where no one misses a note, no one plays the wrong chord, everyone performs marvelously, and proud parents smile. (Parents always did so regardless.)
Students who are graduating will miss their last awards day, senior walk through, prom, and many other traditions they’ve looked forward to. Both school systems, however, will have graduation ceremonies to award much deserved diplomas. Blount County schools will hold theirs on May 21 and Oneonta’s will be July 24. Seniors will graduate in their respective football stadiums. In case of incoement weather, county schools will be held the following day.
To get there, the Oneonta and Blount County school systems have had to resort to a combination of online approaches and classical teaching with textbooks and handouts in order to complete the academic year.
In the Oneonta system, most students have a Chromebook provided by the system, but they are still subject to connectivity. Some students complain internet access is at best slow, sometimes not available. County students have a greater complaint. According to Blount County Board of Education Superintendent Rodney Green, 48 percent of the system’s students do not have access to the internet, either because it is unavailable or unaffordable.
Still, both systems have moved forward. Green said county schools are using a “blended learning approach.” Those with internet access and devices are continuing their classes online. “They’re able to do their work using a digital platform.”
Those who do not have that advantage have been receiving paper assignments either on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The student or their parents pick up class assignments at the school and return their work accordingly. To work through problems, seek guidance, or ask questions, students and parents use the telephone to contact teachers.
The Oneonta school system is using the same approach, according to Lauren Wilson, the system’s academic accountability coordinator. Students with online access are completing their course work via the internet while 10 to 15 percent of their students are having to use the more conventional approach with paper handouts. The exception is kindergarteners and first graders. Administrators felt the pencil and paper approach was best for those grades.
Green and Wilson agree the lack of in-class contact between a pupil and teacher is a disadvantage to the learning process. Having to send a question by email or leave a voicemail delays the learning process.
While some teachers are using video conferencing via Zoom or Google Meets, it is not the same as raising your hand in a classroom, asking a question, and getting an immediate response. Green said, “Nothing replaces face-to-face instruction. You miss out on so much interaction with a child.”
Feedback has been mostly positive, according to Green and Wilson. Teachers, parents, and students have accepted the situation for what it is. “Everybody just stepped up and said, ‘I’ll do what I need to do and figure out how to do it,’” Wilson said.
The 2020 seniors will have a story to tell their children and grandchildren. It will not be the story of how they walked five miles each way to school, uphill both ways, in the snow, and of course, barefooted.
Their story will be about the loss of some experiences, but will also be one of perseverance and tenacity. Hopefully, they will also be able to talk about family unity, love, and parents who overcame difficult situations. Those are the good stories that came out of the Great Depression and helped mold a generation that built the greatest economy and democratic republic in history. No one should expect less from this generation.