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5-13-20

Serving Students Amid a Pandemic

School personnel load a bus before delivering food and instruction packets to students. -Photo by Jeffry Boatright


By Jeffry Boatright

Students and educators from school districts across the state continue distance learning practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As Florida residents increasingly tested positive for COVID-19 in March, a series of events began unfolding, and ultimately suspended on-campus instruction in Florida for the remainder of the 2019-20 school term.


Although playgrounds fell quiet, cafeterias empty and classrooms unoccupied, the instruction and meals continue through the hard work and dedication of parents, students and school personnel. While it has not been easy, it has certainly been educational within itself, one might say.


It has not been an effortless endeavor, and there have been challenges. Through technology, however, distance learning has been a viable solution in concluding this very unusual school term for middle and high school students.


Through the gradual integration of technology into our schools, middle and high school students and educators have inadvertently prepared for remote education. Of course, no one could have anticipated that a pandemic would disrupt our normal lives and thrust us into relying so heavily on technology, but fortunately the remainder of the school term has been salvageable.


Education, like all other aspects of life, has evolved over the course of time in our nation. Colonial children were predominantly taught at home, and apprenticeships were common.


Nineteenth century children often attended small schools where students of all ages and academic levels were taught by a single teacher. Education during the first part of the twentieth century was not much different. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that integration occurred in public schools.


Today, it is not unusual for a few thousand students to attend a single school. Textbooks have been replaced with laptop computers, and instruction is often online, even while in the classroom. That does not mean the teacher is less accessible today. Instead, today’s teachers are perhaps more accessible with students messaging their teachers from home with questions about homework and assignments.


While all this technology might seem confusing and perhaps even impersonal, technology has not replaced the teacher. Instead, technology has eliminated boundaries, allowing virtual instruction during this unfortunate pandemic.


Through the Suwannee County School District’s online learning management system, students can access each class, communicate with teachers, and submit their assignments online. Educators can even post announcements and record instruction for students. Most teachers have taken advantage of the live conferences for individual students, small groups and even entire classes.


Teachers have always been innovative, but distance learning has taken their resourcefulness to a whole new level.


Food carts are prepared and ready to load on buses for delivery to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
-Photo by Jeffry Boatright



“Teaching Culinary Arts during the COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging,” Julie Dees of Branford High School explained. “Since I teach students that might not have typical ingredients to do lab projects at home, I rely on one of my earlier quotes.”


According to Dees, that quote is “Reading, writing and math all in good taste.”


Her students are now engaged in reading articles about the history of pizza as well as cooking during the pandemic on limited items at home.


Primary and elementary school students and faculty have not enjoyed many of the conveniences that technology affords middle and high school grades. The creativity of primary and elementary grade teachers, however, has prevailed.


Lori Land and Jean Williams, both first grade teachers at Branford Elementary School, agree that distance learning has been an adjustment. They have relied on telephone contacts and online tools to understand their students’ needs. Class Zooming has become an asset, Land and Williams agree.


Wendy Jones (right) and Erica Daies prepare to deliver meals after a long morning of preparing food packages.
-Photo by Jeffry Boatright



In effort to accommodate those younger students, teachers diligently prepare assignments each week to be delivered to students by bus.


Paper-based assignments are also distributed for middle and high school students who do not have access to the internet. During those Monday routes, completed work is returned to distribute to the individual teachers for grading.


Each Monday, every school bus driver runs his or her respective route with school employees aboard. Those employees distribute the students’ assignments, along with breakfasts and lunches for the week. Students who do not ordinarily ride a bus to or from school are permitted to pick up their meals and assignments from their respective schools.

 

Collectively, Branford Elementary School and Branford High School serve over one-thousand students each week.


Branford High School Assistant Principal Carl Manna helps load buses for food distribution. -Photo by Jeffry Boatright



According to BHS cafeteria staff, over ten thousand meals are provided for students on a weekly basis.


While Land and Williams acknowledge the challenges, they are also quick to point out the blessings. According to these dedicated teachers, faculty, staff and administrators have pulled together to ensure the packets and meals are delivered. They also noted the essential role of the transportation department during this unfortunate situation.


“Our bus driver is a true diamond,” Williams noted, referring to Jack Powell.


Land added that Powell, who the students affectionately refer to as Captain Jack, is one of a kind. “He cares for each child on his bus and makes sure students have what they need, even if he has to personally go back with the packets and meals.”


Land and Williams will agree that it has been a challenge and a learning experience, but through dedication, teamwork and determination, everyone involved has been able to serve the students during this adverse situation.


Perhaps education will return to normal when the 2020-21 school term arrives. Everyone certainly hopes for laughter on the playgrounds, student-filled cafeterias and occupied classrooms.


Ultimately, we have learned that we do not know what tomorrow holds. We do know, however, that the dedicated faculty and staff of our area’s schools will always stand ready to serve their students.