Area schools, parents adapt to COVID closures

Hunter Doss (5th grade) listens to classmate Layton Thomas during an online lesson led by instructors Casey Thompson and Jaqueline Penprase

By Brandon Martin

Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement to close all schools for the remainder of the academic year, local private and public schools have given more details on their path forward.

For Carlisle School, not much has changed from their plan since Northam’s initial two-week closure.

Head of School Gracie Agnew said at the time that “students took all textbooks and workbooks home. We will continue our instructional days.”

Agnew said that these days may include a variety of instructional methods such as “educational videos, engaging in a virtual classroom using ZOOM, the Google Education Suite, Canvas, readings, written work, worksheets, app-based activities, activity packets, textbook assignments, interactive, hands-on activities, as well as other activities.”

“As a mother of four, I was originally stressed over the fact that I would have to teach multiple different grade levels in my house at one time,” said Kim Banerjee of her children. “But, surprisingly, it has gone fairly smoothly so far. Carlisle has made this experience easy. My high school child has live on-line instruction with her teachers and peers, as well as, independent work to complete on her own schedule.”

Banerjee said that her younger children are also adapting to the online classroom setting.

My 4th and 5th-grade children receive all their work through Google Classroom which they self-complete and turn in electronically at the end of each day,” she added. “They also have been meeting with their teachers and peers on Google Meet, which they both enjoy. My youngest, in 1st grade, receives her daily work through email to be completed each day. She has really enjoyed the teacher’s reading a new book on Facebook every morning. It’s a great way to stay connected to some familiar faces in this unusual circumstance. In addition to typical classroom assignments, we also have STEAM, art, and PE requirements. We have a lot of fun with these. Although this situation is not ideal, we are making it work to our best ability and are living a simple life, which might be just what we needed.”

Zara Banerjee (1st grade) conducts at-home science experiments led online by Carlisle STEAM Coordinator Sherry Moschler.

On the public education side, Parker Gunn, Communications and Community Outreach coordinator for Martinsville City Public Schools (MCPS), said that their schools would be devising ways to fairly educate all of their students.

“We are working on a variety of options through virtual, digital, and remote learning to ensure equity for all students,” he said.

During a March 24 Henry County Board of Supervisors meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Administrative Services David Scott said the county school system intends to fulfill its obligation to instruct students, noting that the task has additional challenges when it comes to educating their special-needs students.

Additionally, Henry County Public School’s (HCPS) Director of Communications & Organizational Learning Monica Hatchett said the division would continue to seek guidance from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to formulate their plan moving forward.

With schools closing, there are still concerns of accreditation due to instructional hours lost.

“The hourly requirements are in the Code of Virginia, so any waivers will have to go through legislature when they reconvene,” Gunn said.

Carlisle is accredited by the Southern Association of Independent Schools, but still adheres to the Code of Virginia in terms of hours of instruction.

“Parents/caregivers will not be required to log hours,” Agnew said. “Teachers are working from home and are available to students for instruction as they would be during the regular school day.”

Staff with the state Department of Education (VDOE) “are evaluating options to provide flexibility in meeting testing and accountability requirements for the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, the Virginia Alternate Assessment Program, and the ACCESS for ELs test administered to English Learners,” according to the department’s frequently asked question webpage.

Carlisle may not be required to take SOLs but they still have standards that their students have to meet.

“We do have curriculum standards, and students are assessed using direct and indirect measures,” Agnew said. “We use MAP, or the Measure of Academic Progress and students participate in PSAT, SAT, and AP testing.”

“With the fear and uncertainty surrounding us all, I am so thankful to Carlisle School for utilizing technology to provide my child with a way to connect and interact with her teachers and classmates,” said Tami Sapp. “The smile on her face was priceless.”

Agnew added that the school currently plans to have seniors graduate on May 22.

HCPS have announced that students will graduate this year but won’t have a commencement ceremony based on guidance from VDOE, according to Scott.

Martinsville Schools Superintendent Zeb Talley said “we will try to have as many milestone events as possible when our current virus situation has been resolved.”

Additionally, the school announced that they will be closed for Spring Break from April 6-12. During this time, meals will not be provided but they will resume on April 15.

Gunn said that they are also working to provide guidance for seniors as they prepare to go to college next school year.

“Counseling services are still available through email, phone call, or virtual meetings,” he said.

Agnew said due to their College Counselor Susan Aaron that their students are already ahead of the game.

“All applications are in, and our seniors have been accepted to at least one college of their choice,” Agnew said. “Mrs. Aaron has been working with our seniors the entire time that we have had to resort to distance learning, and she has assured the students of her availability during these crucial times. She is making sure that they stay on task with completing scholarship applications, keeping them informed of new scholarship opportunities,

discussing financial aid packages, and preparing for Decision Day.”

Aaron is preparing to process scholarship applications while still posting links and meeting with seniors individually in a virtual platform.

Juniors at Carlisle are also receiving significant assistance during this time.

“Mrs. Aaron is continuing with her counseling plans for our current juniors,” Agnew said. “There will be a ‘live’ rising senior night during which she will begin to prepare them for success as a senior. A critical component of the junior early start plan will be SAT prep.”

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