After an uncertain end to last Spring’s semester, Waynesville R-VI School District resumed classes in August — although COVID-19 has resulted in a much different setting from the typical academic year.
According to Superintendent Brian Henry, 17 percent — about one in six — of students are learning through virtual means at home, while the other 83 percent are in altered classrooms.
“We have managed to complete three full weeks in school for grades K-8 and two weeks for grades 9-12, so we have demonstrated that it can and will work,” Henry said. “To continue, we need families to follow the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.”
And the average school day looks different this year.
“Everybody wears a mask every day, all day unless they’re eating,” said Jenna McCann, a fifth-grade teacher at Wood Elementary. “They (the students) eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom in their seat, so they stay at that same desk.”
Masks and distancing are now standard procedure, and students across every school in the district eat at their desks instead of their cafeterias, district officials said.
Due to new guidelines of allowing remote learning, McCann said fewer students occupy her class now.
“I have 23, I believe I should have 30,” she said. “The class size is definitely smaller. If I added those extra seven kids, I don’t even know where I’d put them, because we’re well-spaced … but I don’t have room to put more desks.”
As another precaution, the desks in McCann’s classroom — where students spend their whole day — now all face the same direction.
“We wash our hands about every hour,” she said. “All that stuff is different from what we’re used to.”
Kyle Wilking, an eighth grader at Waynesville Middle School, encouraged fellow classmates to commit to doing what they can to stop COVID-19.
“They should keep in mind that they need to follow the regulations that the school is putting out,” he said. “They always should keep their head up and help keep others up, too.”
Wilking added that, as a student, he feels a shared sense of responsibility in keeping the school district open.
“I just think the one thing that keeps me going is sports, and getting to see my friends, and keeping myself safe,” he said. “Because if I don’t, we won’t be in school and we’ll be back to where we were in March.”
McCann said she has tried to boost morale by allowing time for students to talk from their desks during lunchtime in her classroom.
“They still talk just as much as they did before,” she joked.
While the adjustments in learning methods have presented some challenges, McCann said students have met adversity head on.
“They’re pretty much used to masks now,” she said. “Sometimes, when you observe them, they do better than adults do. They’re a little bit mature about things and they’re handling it well. They’re not letting it stop them from enjoying their time here.”
McCann said parents can help set the example for their children in following COVID-19 guidelines.
“Make sure that your child is accustomed to wearing a mask and they know the importance of it,” she said. “If they practice those kinds of things outside of school, it’s going to become more natural when they’re here.”
Henry indicated the district would prioritize safety over a return to normalcy.
“This pandemic is not a sprint, but a long-distance marathon,” he said. “Better times are on the horizon, we have every reason to have hope for the future, but in the meantime, we must persevere.”