What ‘no school’ means for Highlands students

Late last week, the day after announcing the 3-phase plan to reopen North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper announced that public schools in the state will remain closed for the rest of the school year, if not longer.

Gov. Cooper extended his order that had previously kept schools closed through May 15. Cooper said the decision to not reopen was made after consulting with health experts.

“This decision is not made lightly,” Cooper said at a news conference Friday. “This decision is made with the high hopes that we could go in and finish the school year like any regular school year. But this virus tells us that cannot be, and I know parents want us to keep the health and safety of their children as the No. 1 priority.”

North Carolina is among 43 states, four U.S. territories and the District of Columbia that have ordered or recommended that school buildings be closed for the rest of the academic year, according to Education Week. The closures are affecting around 45.1 million students.

“I understand the need for schools to remain closed because of the corona virus’ deadly aspects,” said Highlands School Principal Brian Jetter. “The death of over 55,000 people in the U.S. in only a couple of months is absolutely cause for caution.”

But what about end of year grades and will students be ready for the next grade in August?

Last Thursday, the State Board of Education adopted a statewide grading policy in which only high school students will have the option of getting traditional grades this semester. Elementary school students won’t get grades, and middle school students will only get grades saying whether they passed or withdrew from a class.

“Looking strictly at a curriculum focus, and not the maturation of social skills students gain in school, teachers will need to begin the 2020-’21 school year identifying the gaps in course specific knowledge that students may have because of school closing early,” said Jetter. “Teachers will need to teach that curriculum first and then move into new material. There will be a lot of assessment at the beginning of the year that is focused on determining different students’ gaps in foundational knowledge.”

Jetter said one fortunate thing (if there is anything “fortunate” about what is happening) is that the school closing happened with only about 35 instructional days left in the school year. 

“While a lot of knowledge can be gained in 35 days, at least we weren’t closed with half the year left and the knowledge deficits that would have caused,” he said.

When schools closed, many teachers moved from written packet material for students to online interactions with students through platforms like Google Classroom, and Youtube learning new ways to reach students. 

“However, whether teachers are relying on online platforms or packets of work with their students, I do not see a big difference in the knowledge garnered by the work done,” said Jetter. “There are many “older” technologies – phone calls, texts, and emails – by which teachers have stayed connected to students.” 

In the Highlands area, there are many students who live in places that do not have reliable internet connections. 

“So, with a variety of “connections” from the physical packets of work and the inevitable inconveniences of pick-up and drop-off, to the high-speed connections of internet platforms, we have tried to reach as many students as possible,” he said. “However, I think whichever way students and teachers are connected there are students who will have different gaps in foundational knowledge come the start of school in late August. Those gaps will need to be identified at the very beginning of the year and learned by the student before new material is taught.”

On top of that, the community’s heart goes out to the Class of 2020.

“It is most unfortunate that our seniors, along with most other seniors across our nation, will have to miss final milestones during the last few months of high school – award and scholarship assemblies, athletic banquets, yearbook presentations and signings, field days, and graduations,” said Jetter. “We are all saddened by this loss of memories that may not be made. However, we also realize how important it is to follow the safety measures that have been put in place.”

Meanwhile, Highlands School is supporting its seniors through gestures of love, encouragement, and respect.

“We are making sure we are ready to implement a graduation ceremony once we know what the restrictions to large group gatherings are. We will be sending athletic and academic award information to our newspapers to share with our community; we have hung senior picture posters on our track fence to highlight our seniors to our community; and we are publishing online and in the newspapers Senior Spotlights to honor each of our them.”

Jetter said even though this is a trying time for families, students, and teachers, Highlands School will continue to praise its seniors, families, and teachers for remaining strong.

“The Highlands School faculty and staff look forward to hearing about these seniors’ accomplishments in the future,” he said.

By Brittney Lofthouse & Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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