Educators in Greenwood County school districts 50 and 51 are excited to return for a new school year, but they understand the trepidation people might have because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Heather Calliham is anxious to return to school, even though she knows everyone will face new challenges. Regardless of the challenges ahead, the first-grade teacher at Rice Elementary School has confidence in District 50’s leaders.
“We know they’re going to take care of us so we’re able to take care of our students,” she said. “We’re excited to get back into the classroom.”
Emily Craft will teach first-graders at Benjamin E. Mays Elementary next year, and she thinks going back to school will help bring a sense of normalcy to the world, particularly for children.
“I’m sure there’s nervousness for everybody but I am confident that our superintendent and everybody at the district office is doing everything to keep us teachers and our students safe and healthy,” she said. “I’m excited, and I’m ready.”
Both want to teach COVID-19 procedures and precautions early on, similar to how they would go over expectations and rules at the beginning of the school year. Craft said they already teach children how to wash their hands, walk in a line, unpack their book bags and move through the hallway. They both intend to use the same approach for additional rules and guidelines so it won’t be as overwhelming for children who are 5, 6 and 7 years old.
“We teach children far more than just academics,” Craft said. “Being clean, healthy and taking care of ourselves is something that we push in the classroom already. I think it’s something that we’re going to find isn’t as difficult as we were anticipating.”
Since both are primary school teachers, Calliham thinks they can add a little fun and color to the COVID-19 precautions and procedures.
“Hopefully get the children excited about wearing masks, keeping their hands clean and socially distancing from their friends,” she said. “We have to make it a part of our new normal because that’s how our school year is going to go.”
Calliham can’t wait to be back in a classroom full of children, and Craft is happy to have a routine again. When schools closed in March under Gov. Henry McMaster’s order, both teachers had their children taken away from them without a clear sense of when they would see them again.
“We’re just ready to get back to doing what we love and being in there with our students whether it’s full of masks, hand sanitizer, Kleenex or whatever we have to do,” Calliham said.
Craft is looking forward to seeing the bright colors in classrooms because she thinks it will brighten up the world during this COVID-19 pandemic. She also can’t wait to hear laughter and conversations.
“I think it’ll be one of those things where the second we step in our rooms teachers will just do what they know and love to do,” she said.
Craft thinks the district being flexible and offering virtual, hybrid or face-to-face for five days is wonderful.
“What’s best for one family might not be what’s best for the other so I think it’s great that there are options,” she said.
While Calliham and Craft acknowledged there are concerns for the coming year, they trust the procedures and guidelines the district has in place. They also trust that the personal protective equipment the district is providing.
“I think optimism is going to be key in overcoming any worries that we have,” Craft said. “With any struggle or hardship that we face in life, when we approach it optimistically I truly believe positive results will come. Our optimism and confidence in getting back to our job and teaching our students will help bring positivity in the end.”
Craft is eager to witness the teamwork the district’s faculty and staff will embody during these uncertain times. Positivity and teamwork will be key to success in making virtual learning and face-to-face learning attainable, she said.
It’s been a long time since Christie Hodge, who teaches band at Ware Shoals High School, played music with her students. She is excited to get them back in school, and while safety measures will certainly be implemented, she is excited to get the opportunity to get to try them out.
“Every teacher at heart wants to see their children,” she said. “They want to know that they can be safe while they do it, but they want to see their kids. I’m just waiting on the day.”
Hodge has already thought about some safety measures, including requiring bell covers, which she said will be like face masks for instruments.
“If that’s what it takes to get my kids back, then that’s what we’ll do,” she added.
While State Finals have been canceled, Hodge said many local contests hope to still happen. She is just trying to give kids any kind of experience they can have this year, and she doesn’t want to completely call everything dead in the water.
Friday night football games is another event where Hodge said she hopes the band will be able to play.
“We always want to support our community, and Friday night football is a great way to do that,” she said.
With the district using a hybrid model, Hodge wanted to emphasize that virtual learning will look nothing like it did in the spring. Virtual learning this year will hold students accountable and take attendance, so she is hoping that she can give out assignments during face-to-face class sessions and students can go home and work on that virtually. When students come back the next day, she can see if they practiced it correctly and help put all the music together.
Hodge applauded the district’s administration because she thinks they communicated their plan well.
“They’ve gotten teacher input, parent input and then they communicated what everybody said,” she said. “I think we’ve done well with communication through all this in Ware Shoals.”
Kem Owens, a fourth-grade teacher at Ware Shoals Primary School, feels good about going back to school. She likes that the district chose the A/B schedule because it’s a good way to start school with things being unclear about which direction COVID-19 is trending. She also thinks it’s important for children to see their teachers and have direct communication with them.
“I think it makes a big difference,” she said.
Owens likes that they’ll be back in the classroom at least two days a week because she will get to do more with them compared to when they participated in eLearning in the spring. She thinks they get more accomplished in the classroom.
“You can see their reactions and read them a little better when they’re right there with you rather than eLearning,” she said.