Just as Franklin County’s K-12 teachers were starting to get in the groove of how to teach while schools were closed for two weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many were disappointed to learn they will not see their students again this school year as Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Carrie Walton, a sixth grade history teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School. “I think we knew it was coming.”

Franklin County High School agriculture teacher Jean Capps said, “I just really feel badly for the kids, from the kindergartners making new friends to the seniors missing their activities. It’s horrible. I’m really disappointed for the kids and me, too. I enjoy teaching.”

Northam’s initial two-week closure announcement was made on Friday afternoon, March 13, shortly before classes dismissed for the weekend.

Charlotte Jordan, a fourth grade teacher at Callaway Elementary, said the school’s students were sent home with books to read. That Sunday evening, Principal Pam Brown emailed the teachers and on Monday morning, teachers went to school to prepare their teaching materials.

Each of the school’s students received a two-week pencil and paper packet of work to do along with directions for Google Classroom and how to check in with their teachers. Besides basic subjects, the packets included Google Classroom information for music and art, as well as a lesson plan of activities for physical education.

For those students not having devices to use, the school had Chromebooks available for check out.

“The parents have been awesome in working with us,” Jordan said. “I can’t mention enough how helpful they have been.”

She added that within minutes of the packets being ready that first day parents were already there to pick them up and to check out Chromebooks. For those families not able to come to the school, Brown made deliveries.

The school also used Facebook, as well as every social media platform available, to reach families Jordan said. The school’s librarian, Carolyn Sharpe, has read books to the students using Facebook.

Jordan has checked in with her students daily. Each morning she emailed parents and sent them good morning texts to see if everything is going well, if they needed anything and to let them know what’s coming up that day.

“We’re just trying to meet the needs of our kids and to reach them any way we can,” she said.

Jordan said the biggest challenge in teaching with schools being closed is “learning about the necessary technology along with the students to make it all work.”

However, the unusual circumstances have allowed her to build “a relationship with parents that we might not otherwise have had.”

Paige Saufley, a third grade teacher at Rocky Mount Elementary, said her biggest challenge with the new way of teaching is feeling like she doesn’t have control. She has reached out to her students daily, but she doesn’t always get a response. In the mornings she likes to ask her students, “How are you doing? Are you hungry? How did you sleep?”

She also has done a homework check every day, which is a read and response comprehension activity using a book of the student’s choice.

Saufley said if she has not been able to reach families after repeated tries, the principals have checked on them.

Saufley also said the new teaching system has been hard for children of divorced parents who go between two homes because the two-week pencil and paper review packet or Google Chromebook, which each child was issued, might get left at one house or the other.

“I’m impressed that third graders can handle technology so well,” Saufley said. “Many can log in and make videos. It’s the parents that have questions.”

She said she has missed the kids and felt that students also have missed each other. Last Friday evening, Saufley and four other teachers used Google Meet to bring parents and 10 kids to visit with one another.

Walton from BFMS, has started her school days by logging in on her computer and then emailing the children/parents with the student’s assignments. With the new system, two subjects a day have been covered. Every department came up with the same lessons and each teacher set “office hours,” which are staggered and posted.

All of Walton’s assignments have been posted to Google Classroom and there have been paper copies available.

Like the other teachers, Walton said the biggest challenge has been the lack of personal connection. “My heart hurts missing these kids,” she said.

A positive has been seeing how the students are learning to read and follow directions.

“They’ve been fantastic to turn in work and ask questions when they don’t understand,” Walton said.

Capps from FCHS, has been reaching out to her students daily using Google Classroom for her agriculture classes, as well as with paper copies.

She said she is discouraged that many of her students’ activities won’t take place this spring, including the annual drive to school by tractor, National Agricultural Week, archery team, Envirathon, FFA and the plant sale.

With parents having more involvement with their children’s education, she said they can see what teachers really do.

Capps said she really has missed her kids, but she can see how the latest school arrangement has been “bringing families back together.”

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