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Letcher County Schools decides to start school year completely virtual

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 6:54 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 11:34 PM EDT
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LETCHER COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - As the school year steadily approaches, superintendents across the commonwealth must decide how the upcoming school year will look like for students and teachers.

”That decision is not without lots of thought,” said Denise Yonts, superintendent of Letcher County Schools.

She recalls the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, receiving a call while at the Letcher County girls basketball state tournament.

“I remember the day, it was March 11th, it was our first game of the state tournament and the governor held his call that day and gave us the recommendation to close school because of the growing number of cases."

All of the changes were made quickly, “The unknown was what was very scary for everybody at that point. In a moments notice to change from in-person instruction to NTI,” she said.

Like most schools in Eastern Kentucky, the use of NTI days was not common.

“We learned a great deal and when you’re throwing into something headfirst you either sink or swim and we try to swim and make the best of the situation.”

Spending some time with her teachers, Yonts learned what worked and did not work. Working with teachers on curriculum and instructional gaps to better instruction for the fall.

“We know we did not get everything covered that we wanted to, looking at the data to identify those gaps early on to know how to deliver proper instruction, no matter what the scenario for what the school year would like,” she said.

“From the very get-go when they started talking about reopening the school they said have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.”

Sending out surveys to parents and staff was the next step, gathering input on how they thought the upcoming school year should look like.

“About 60 percent of our parents wanted to bring kids back to in-person instruction.”

Taking that into consideration they developed a hybrid plan.

“We can start all virtually watch our numbers and when it’s safer bring them in for two days a week. Where they do a schedule rotation and kids will be groomed so they can come Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday,” she said.

Not putting a time frame on when that hybrid plan would start, all depending on how the virus goes in the county.

While students have been the forefront of discussion during these times, teachers also have some challenges to face. Tyler Little is a math teacher at Letcher County Central High School. With a decade of teaching under his belt this upcoming school year, he never thought he would be teaching in this way.

“We just suddenly disappeared back in March you know we were there one day and literally were not there the next. Caught us off guard back in the spring and you know everybody had high hopes that it will be over by the summer, but it looks like we’ll have to enter the 2021 school year with the pandemic in our everyday life,” he said.

Little has spent his past few months teaching virtual summer school.

“This has been the most successful online summer school in Letcher County in a while. We had sixty-something kids enrolled. Some kids we did not contact, they reached out to us beforehand wanting to come in and do this virtual learning. We establish a routine with them and procedure which is huge. We were able to engage them every day on a schedule give them assignments and deadlines and they were back meeting every single day.”

Giving them a taste of what virtual learning could look like this fall.

“From the feedback, I got from the students I taught math that was some of their favorite learning because they were able to kind of be under a schedule but working at their pace,” said Little.

Teaching not only students but teachers as well, who will be in the classrooms teaching this fall. Little saying teachers also need help and encouragement.

“We all have this idea that that did not go well back in March, but now with experience, it is only going to get better,” he said. “We’ve had time to think about it and with our district announcement to go ahead and go online we’ve got the information out there in advance.

Saying with the school’s announcement early on, not only can teachers and students prepare but parents as well.

“School is so much more than four walls and I think even virtually we can provide our students with some engaging wonderful experiences until we can get them into the classroom,” said Yonts.

Although the school year holds uncertainty for both students and teachers alike, they can and will get through this together.

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