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Learning as We Go: Back To School

Belle Heth Elementary School

A new school year is always a time for change, but never quite like this year. Despite efforts at planning and preparing, the new school year will be ‘learn as you go.’ 

“There's no map for this” says Wayne Tripp, of the School Leaders Institute at Virginia Tech. “No one really has been through this before. We use the term ‘unprecedented’ and the term ‘unique.’ Those are both overused terms, but in this case, they're quite apt.”

“And when you're a school leader, you sort of expect to be able to lay out a plan, and chart it out and get the resources that are necessary and go forward and accomplish that. But this is driven by circumstances that are well beyond their control."


Some large school systems around the country have already said students would not be going to school in person this fall. But in Virginia families can choose either full-time online instruction or hybrid learning, with at least two full days at school plus independent study at-home.


Tara Grant is Principal at Belle Heth Elementary in Radford. She points out, “The practice of being safe is so important. More than anything, we really need our parents and community and families to support us with this. You know, practice wearing a mask and being appropriate about washing your hands” covering your sneeze and understanding what is meant by social distancing."


That term, social distancing may be turn out to be the word of the year; A relatively unknown concept that’s not always easy to follow.


“Because when, when kids come to school,” says Grant, “I give them a hug, big time, you know, we are a loving place” so, that's going to be difficult. I would love to see that back. And, right now I know that we can't do that. So we'll have to use our words and be creative, I guess.”


Using their words and their technology, in what will surely be the most unusual school year since chalk was invented.  

Abigail Castleberry is a rising 6th grader at Belle Heth. Here’s what she says about how it was when things began to change last spring.


“After they closed schools, I had a bunch of work for the first week or so. I was okay with it and I realized how much work I was going to have. It felt like I had more work than they would usually give me in school.”

 It may be surprising, but she says it was actually a lot of fun.


“I could manage when I wanted to do my work and I made a goal she had done by Wednesday or Thursday every week. And then, then I also had a bunch of free time to do some board games and puzzles. I could go bike riding. I could cook.”


She has two younger brothers, who became part of the ‘at home creative learning league.’


“One day we wrote positive quotes on the sidewalks and then maybe two weeks later, my brothers made giant Fort in my room. We did a lot of fun stuff. We went on picnics. I went to my dad's wood shop. I read a ton of books.”


There was also more structured learning from their mother, Laurie Scherer, a teacher herself for 17 years.  She says “Teaching in the classroom was much easier!"  Scherer, who has seen things from both sides, says, relationships are different with your parents, and that kids “have a lot of respect for their teachers. They follow the rules” perhaps more cooperatively than they might in their own homes. “The do, what's asked of them.” And that interacting with adults other than family members, “builds their self-esteem. It, teaches them how to interact with other people and it broadens their little world, to have these relationships.”

Abigail says she’s looking forward to going back to school, more than ever before.  She misses her friends and her teachers.  She wants to continue being an ‘Ambassador’ at Bell Heth, teaching new and younger students how to navigate the school.

But, she is also more nervous than ever at the prospect of going back to school. “I mean, I'm always nervous at the beginning of school cause I don't know what's going to happen.”

No one does.

Again Wayne Tripp, “I think there's a resignation now, that change is more fundamental, but there's also, I think, a desire to get back to normal. That's in society at large, but particularly in schools because schools are something we've all experienced. We all have some notion of what a school should look like and how that experience should be for a student. And I believe that people keep thinking, we're going to go back to the old way of doing things. I'm not sure we will.”

Follow this link for updates to Virginia's Back to School plans and policies. http://doe.virginia.gov/support/health_medical/covid-19/recover-redesign-restart.shtml








Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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